A report by the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan think-tank, provides data and analysis of H-2A visa program, which allows American businesses to hire an unlimited number of foreign guestworkers in temporary, seasonal positions related to agriculture. The new data, according to CIS, may help in evaluating the possible impact of the 2019 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill that recently passed the House Appropriations Committee with an amendment that would allow H-2A guestworker visas to be used for year-round workers.
In July, Republican congressmen Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Kevin Yoder of Kansas allowed several amendments to the Homeland Security appropriations bill in question. An amendment introduced by Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) was passed by a voice vote, which critics say will block the Trump administration's efforts to strengthen the credible fear standard for asylum seekers.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions clarified that immigration law does not allow individuals to receive asylum for fear of gang violence or domestic abuse. Sessions ruled that the "mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim." Furthermore, Sessions ruled that credible fear claims should be approved only when aliens have well-founded fears of persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The Price amendment, however, blocks funding for implementation of the Sessions' ruling, while requiring asylum adjudicators to approve credible fear claims where the alien claims a threat of gang violence or domestic violence. Republican congressman Yoder spoke in favor of the amendment.
In addition, Yoder introduced his own legislation, H.R. 392, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, as an amendment. It seeks to eliminate the per-country caps for employment-based green cards and raise per-country caps for family-based green cards. It was approved by a voice vote. While the bill does not increase the total number of permanent residency permits issued each year, it does reflect a change in immigration law through a voice vote on an appropriations committee.
The Appropriations Committee on which Frelinghuysen and Yoder sit also allowed two major changes to the low-skilled guest worker programs. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) introduced the amendment that would allow the H-2A agricultural guestworker visa to be used for year-round workers. The visa is currently limited to temporary or seasonal workers in agriculture. The bill would change the already unlimited number of H-2A visas issued each year to dairy farmers. The Newhouse amendment was also approved by a voice vote.
Fellow Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland introduced an amendment that would increase the number of low-skilled foreign workers in jobs that are temporary or seasonal in nature beyond the current 66,000 cap. Many of these jobs are in seafood processing, landscaping, and hospitality fields. Critics believe that the Harris amendment may allow for a quadrupling of the number of H-2B visas issued each year. It was also approved by a voice vote, with no objections from Frelinghuysen and Yoder. A vote by the full House, after Congress returns from summer vacation, is expected in September.
In the new report by CIS, researcher Huennekens made several salient points about H-2A visas:
• Issuances of H-2A visas for foreign agricultural guestworkers have tripled since 2007, growing an average of 13 percent a year.
• H-2A workers were paid less than the nationwide average across the top-10 occupational categories in 2017.
• Over half of all H-2A workers are concentrated in just five states: North Carolina, Washington, Florida, Georgia, and California.
• H-2A workers were registered in 165 crop categories, but 20 percent of all the guestworkers labored on just four: Apples, tobacco, blueberries, and "fruits".