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A law proposed in the U.S. Congress last week could help local growers who rely on immigrant labor and those immigrants who do the work.

The proposed law, the Agricultural Job Opportunities and Benefits Act (“AgJobs”) would improve the temporary labor program known as the H2 visa that many growers use to bring in foreign labor.

Significantly, it would also allow current farm workers with two years presence here to legalize their status and ultimately get a green card. The bill was introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, and other senators and representatives from both parties, primarily from states with large agricultural production. The bill is expected to have support from the Obama Administration.

Under this legislation, undocumented agricultural workers could legalize their status on certain conditions. Workers who can prove they worked in American agriculture for at least 150 work days over the previous two years before Dec. 31, 2008 could apply for a new “blue card” or temporary legal immigration status. The blue card would give the person temporary legal status and a work permit.

The bill also provides a path to citizenship for these agricultural workers. If they continued to work for several more years in an agricultural capacity in the United States, they could qualify for permanent residence or a “green card.”

Specifically, to qualify they would have to work an additional three years, working at least 150 days per year, or an additional five years, working at least 100 days per year. In order to obtain permanent residence, workers would have to pay a fine of $500, pay any back taxes owed and prove they have not committed any serious crimes.

Persons holding the green card can generally apply for U.S. citizenship after five years.

The other component of the proposed bill is the improvement of the so-called H2 visa program, or the visa issued by the Citizen and Immigration Service for temporary or seasonal labor.

The H2 visa requires employers to prove a shortage of labor with each

application, a process called labor certification, that is unrealistically long and complicated. The bill would shorten this process from several months to several days. The Department of Labor and CIS, which jointly administer this process, would be required to process all aspects of the H2 visa program much more expeditiously.

This will allow growers to respond more quickly to seasonal labor needs by bringing in labor legally from Mexico and other countries.

The legislation has the support of both labor and industry. Its proponents have secured the endorsement of more than 200 national and state agricultural organizations including the Western Growers, the U.S. Apple Association, the Western United Dairymen and the National Council of Agricultural Employers. It also has the support of labor organizations such as the Alliance for Worker Freedom and immigrant rights groups such as the American Rights Network.

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Christopher A. Kerosky of the law firm of Kerosky & Associates has been recognized as one of the top immigration lawyers in Northern California for the last four years in San Francisco Magazine’s “Super Lawyers” edition. He has had an office in San Francisco for 20 years but recently opened a Santa Rosa office after moving with his family to the North Bay.

He can be reached at 707-433-2060 or ckerosky@youradvocate.net.