Senate immigration bill could have major Green Industry impact

April 18, 2013 -  By

PLANET’s Tom Delaney

The “Gang of Eight” bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced a Senate immigration bill April 17. The 844-page bill is divided into four sections: border security, immigrant visas, interior enforcement and reforms to nonimmigrant visas (workplace programs), the Washington Post reports. The legislation includes many provisions that could affect the Green Industry, including a new W visa program, updates to the existing H-2B program, a mandatory E-Verify system and more.

The bill is “the most encouragement we’ve had in a long time” on immigration, Tom Delaney, director of government affairs for the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), told Landscape Management.

Delaney highlighted a few key provisions pertinent to the landscape industry, although he emphasized he’s still getting through the monster piece of proposed legislation:

H-2B guest-work program. The new bill would reinstate the returning-worker exemption through 2018. It also includes language that’s similar to the controversial 2008 wage methodology. However, the bill would require employers to pay incoming and outgoing transportation costs for the H-2B worker, including reasonable subsistence costs during the period of travel, and the employers must certify and attest that they did not displace and will not displace U.S. workers employed in the same metropolitan statistical area within 90 days before the start and end dates of an H-2B worker.

W visa program. This new program for low-skill workers allows spouses and minor children of the workers under the program to accompany workers to the U.S. and be given work authorization for the same period as the W visa holder. Some members of the landscape industry may qualify for this program, which isn’t seasonal and temporary in nature like the H-2B program.

E-Verify. The legislation requires all employers to use the federal government’s online system for verifying workers are legally permitted to work in the U.S. This mandate would be phased in over a five-year period. As part of the system, every non-citizen would be required to show a “biometric work authorization card” or a “biometric green card.” Due process requirements are established so legal workers are not prevented from working due to errors in the system or because of employer negligence or misconduct.

Border security. One of the sticking points of the failed 2007 push for immigration reform, border security is a large component of this bill. The legislation would target high-risk sections, defined as an area with more than 30,000 apprehensions per year, of the southern U.S. border with Mexico for increased security. The bill also would increase border surveillance and detection funding by $3 billion, with an additional $1.5 billion for improved border fencing.

Unlawful status. The proposed legislation allows for people currently in the country illegally to apply to adjust their status to the legal status of Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI). Those eligible to do so include people who have resided in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and have maintenance of continuous physical presence since then and have paid fees. After 10 years, aliens in RPI status may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident status through the same merit-based system everyone else must use to earn a Green Card. Many people are ineligible, including convicted felons and other criminals.

“It’s a good start and it has a lot of good provisions in there,” Delaney said. “But I can guarantee you this isn’t the bill that’s going to be voted on. There will be changes made to get it more acceptable to more people.”

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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