Stricter Visa Screening to Include Social Media Scrutiny
In a Federal Register Notice from March 30, 2018, the State Department requested public comment on its proposal that includes adding several additional questions to the Online Application for Nonimmigrant Visa (Form DS-160). One of these additional questions requires applicants to list any social media accounts they’ve used during the five years preceding the date of the application. The notice says that this information will be collected for “identity resolution and vetting purposes based on statutory visa eligibility standards.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte Offers H-2C Clarification
In an article in The Packer on April 6, 2018, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) published a column titled “Clearing Up H-2C Confusion.” In his column, Rep. Goodlatte covers some portions of his AG Act in an effort to address some misconceptions about the H-2C program and get “ag employers and workers to support the AG Act’s inclusion in the Securing America’s Future Act.”
He begins by touching on what has been referred to as the “touchback provision,” a portion of the program that would allow currently unauthorized workers to leave the country and return under the H-2C program. There was much concern voiced surrounding this provision, as employers and employees alike were hesitant to support touching back in case workers might be prohibited from reentering the U.S.
Rep. Goodlatte states in his column that these concerns are addressed in his bill, noting that, under H-2C, workers do not have to return to their country of origin; they only need to leave the United States for 45 days or 1/12 of their stay, whichever is less. He also states that his bill allows currently unauthorized workers seeking to adjust to lawful status “to become pre-certified to join H-2C before traveling outside of the country” and “requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide them with a document authorizing their reentry.”
To read more of Rep. Goodlatte’s discussion on H-2C misconceptions, see his full article here.
Proposed Legislation in California
It has come to our attention that there are a couple of bills in California that may affect the H-2A program in the future – one establishes a potential program under which undocumented agriculture and service industry employees may work legally in California, and the other intends to expand housing options for agricultural employees. We will keep you updated on these bills as they proceed through the California Legislature and have outlined a summary below:
A bipartisan group of California Assembly members introduced the California Resident Worker Program and Economic Stabilization Act (“A.B. 1885”) which aims to address the labor shortage by developing a program for undocumented immigrants to legally work and live in California.
While the details of the plan are not ironed out yet, A.B. 1885 essentially creates a task force that requires the Employment Development Department and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to evaluate the extent of the state’s labor crisis and establish a working group to create a model resident worker permit program. The program proposal would be sent back to the legislature and governor for review and implementation.
Although the likelihood of any state-run program receiving approval by the DOJ and DHS is low, this bill demonstrates that the California State Legislature recognizes the agricultural labor crisis that employers are facing and is trying to do something about it.
Senate Bill 829 (“S.B. 829”) would allow growers to use agricultural land to build employee housing without rezoning. The bill’s authors specifically recognized that rezoning requirements to build agriculture-worker housing can block development because oftentimes communities don’t want worker housing units in their backyard. A related dispute has been ongoing in Santa Maria, which recently denied extending an ordinance restricting H-2A residential housing. You can read more about the Santa Maria ordinance here.
The bill’s authors also state that the surge of H-2A workers in recent years created a shortage of affordable housing in cities like Salinas, and they argue that the requirement that employers provide housing to H-2A workers “displaces other low-wage workers who live year-round in these regions.”
The bill requires that the housing be operated and managed by an independent non-profit to ensure worker-tenants have protections from employer intimidation. This requirement was added after United Farm Workers’ (“UFW”) opposition to a similar bill last year. The UFW argued that permitting an employer to be a landlord would mean that employees would be fearful to assert their labor rights because they could lose their job and home if they complained to their employer. The non-profit requirement is intended to address that concern.