Senate Passes Immigration Bill: Debate Shifts to House

On June 27, the Senate passed its comprehensive Immigration Bill (S 744)—unfortunately including the terms of Senator Merkley’s (D-Oregon) amendment, placing unworkable stipulations on reforestation contractors seeking to obtain visas for H-2B guestworkers. Attention now shifts to the House, which has indicated that it will probably pass a series of bills, rather than a comprehensive bill, to address such controversial issues such as amnesty, treatment of minor-age aliens, securing the border, a path forward to citizenship—and reform of guestworker programs, including the H-2B program that regulates guestworkers employed by reforestation contractors.

Apart from the disastrous Merkley Amendment, the Senate bill actually contains several helpful provisions with respect to the H-2B program, including a statutory solution to the “Wage Rule” problem that FRA is litigating, as well as a temporary (five-year) exemption of returning H-2B workers from the 66,000-worker “cap” on the program. On the other hand, the Senate bill imposes several new fees and mandates on employers of H-2B which would add to the program’s existing burdens.

The Merkley Amendment, however, is more just a burden; it is unworkable. It focuses solely on contractors who use H-2B guestworkers in forest-related work, which is chiefly, although not exclusively, treeplanting. If it becomes law, this provision would:

• require a forestry contractor to submit a separate petition for a temporary labor certification in every state on the work itinerary;

• empower “state workforce agencies” in every state on a contractor’s itinerary to evaluate and approve any reforestation contractor’s efforts to obtain U.S.-based employees;

Since it is abundantly clear there are no U.S.-based workers interested in manual treeplanting work, the burden on contractors is essentially open-ended, depending on the unilateral whim of the “state workforce agency” or agencies.

FRA is meeting with key House members to point out the unworkability of the Merkley Amendment’s terms, to ensure that no House bill includes a similar provision.

FRA has created a Q&A on H-2B Reforestation Contracting linked from our Policy Priorities document. Additional background at this link.