The Senate’s immigration bill will establish a new status for agricultural workers — the blue card.
The blue card will attempt to solve the problem of undocumented workers in the agriculture industry by making the process of hiring foreign nationals to work simpler for employers and also providing a route for undocumented workers to gain lawful status. Blue card status gives workers the option to adjust status to permanent residency after five years.
For undocumented workers, the only requirements for a blue card are:
- Be physically present in the U.S. since Dec. 31, 2012;
- Have performed agricultural work for at least 575 hours or 100 work days in the 2-year period prior to Dec. 31, 2012; and
- And application fee of $100.
Blue cards are initially issued for a period of three years with an option to renew for an additional three years. Blue card holders are not limited to work in a specific geographical location or a particular type of work. They may also work for different employers, though all employers must be designated agricultural employers, registered by the Secretary of Agriculture.
Children and spouses of blue card holders may also apply for legal status, but will not be granted work authorization unless they are independently eligible for blue card status.
The bill affords protections to agricultural workers in that the employer must:
- Pay workers minimum wage or higher;
- Provided housing or a housing allowance;
- Provide reimbursement for travel cost from the employee’s home country to the place of work if the worker has been with that employer for a period of 27 consecutive months or longer;
- Not discriminate between nonimmigrant workers and U.S. workers — equal wages, benefits and working conditions.
The blue card will replace the H2-A visa for agricultural workers.
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