The House Passes Two Immigration Bills… On to the Senate

The House of Representatives passed two immigration reform measures yesterday aimed at providing farm workers and others legal status and reforming the H-2A Program.

The more limited of the bills would allow for a path to citizenship for those that were brought here as minors. These are the so-called “DREAMERS”. This group has been able to work in this country for some time under an executive order in the Obama administration. President Trump tried several times to overturn the EO unsuccessfully. The Trump administration said that this was a job for the Congress, not the executive order.

The Dreamers have been working under what is referred to as “deferred action for childhood arrivals”. The bill would allow them to have a permanent status and a path to citizenship.

The second bill is the Farmworker Modernization Act (FWMA). This bill passed the House in December of 2019. The bill has significant reforms to the H-2A program and allows for those that have been working in the US illegally in agriculture to have a path to permanent status and possibly to citizenship. The bill isn’t without warts although many of the H-2A changes are things that agriculture has been working on for some time.

Several ag groups have supported the passage of the FWMA but many are on the sidelines until some changes can be discussed in the Senate including the American Farm Bureau.

Speaking of the Senate. We have been told that major immigration legislation will be passed out of the Senate but that’s not to say that these bills are dead. It will take some significant changes to get enough republicans to support the measures. We are monitoring these changes and since many of our members are now using the H-2A program, we are working with other commodity groups to protect our ability to have a reliable legal workforce going forward. Stay Tuned

DSF

Wage and Hour Continues Gin Emphasis Program

Even though this year has barely gotten under way for most gins, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor has started making its presence felt in much of our region. We have recently received reports of virtual investigations in NC, SC and AL. We understand an in-person investigation is scheduled but has yet to be conducted in SC.

This is the second year of a regional cotton gin emphasis program. Association staff has met with Wage and Hour staff in both NC and SC recently. It was a very constructive meeting. They provided the documents linked at the bottom of this article for ginners resources. We can only assume that this emphasis program will continue until a low number of violations (even very minor ones) are found. This is the first time that NC has been involved. It is unknown how many gins will be inspected in any given state but last year 10-15 gins across the region were visited.

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Georgia Ag Labor Relations Forum Goes Virtual

Each year, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association holds a labor relations forum. This forum brings speakers from many aspects of agricultural labor from regulators to farm labor contractors (FLC’s) to attorneys for employers to discuss anything and everything affecting the ag community.

The forum is geared toward the produce and fruit industries but as we have become more reliant on migrant workers and more gins have had to resort to desperate measures to find labor, our interests are running together. This year’s forum has gone virtual.

Normally held in October/November each year and held in Tifton, this forum is not typically friendly to gin participation. The organizers have elected to make this a virtual meeting in light of Covid and it is spread out over a longer period. This may give you (our membership) more opportunity to listen in and participate.

This is the second year we have been a sponsor of this forum. It is a good opportunity to learn more about how other industries are dealing with the legal and regulatory aspects of migrant labor and H2A.

You can find more information at http://www.georgiaaglaborforum.com/.

New M-274 Handbook Available

Earlier this year the USCIS announced a new I-9 form. The I-9 is the document that employers must use every time they put a new employee on the payroll. We discussed this in an earlier blog post when the new form was announced in January. The M-274 is the manual that goes along with the I-9 and contains a lot of really good information that helps when understanding how the I-9 works.

Probably more importantly, the M-274 explains what to do and what not to do when filling one out or having a new employee fill one out.

Please find the new M-274 at https://www.uscis.gov/i-9-central/handbook-employers-m-274

Remember the US Federal Government is the only place a 2 page form can have 10+ pages of instructions and a 80+ page manual.

Give us a call if you have questions.

DSF

New I-9 Published Today

On Jan. 31, 2020, USCIS published the Form I-9 Federal Register notice announcing a new version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, that the Office of Management and Budget approved on Oct. 21, 2019. This new version contains minor changes to the form and its instructions. Employers should begin using this updated form as of Jan. 31, 2020.

The notice provides employers additional time to make necessary updates and adjust their business processes. Employers may continue using the prior version of the form (Rev. 07/17/2017 N) until April 30, 2020. After that date, they can only use the new form with the 10/21/2019 version date. The version date is located in the lower left corner of the form.

USCIS made the following changes to the form and its instructions:

Form:

Revised the Country of Issuance field in Section 1 and the Issuing Authority field (when selecting a foreign passport) in Section 2 to add Eswatini and Macedonia, North per those countries’ recent name changes. (Note: This change is only visible when completing the fillable Form I-9 on a computer.)

Instructions:

  • Clarified who can act as an authorized representative on behalf of an employer
  • Updated USCIS website addresses
  • Provided clarifications on acceptable documents for Form I-9
  • Updated the process for requesting paper Forms I-9
  • Updated the DHS Privacy Notice

A revised Spanish version of Form I-9 with a version date of 10/21/2019 is available for use in Puerto Rico only.

For more information, visit I-9 Central or join a free Form I-9 webinar

Are You Ready for an Audit

When we hear the word audit, we (or at least I) think of the IRS but businesses around the country, especially seasonal or that use a lot of migrant or immigrant labor have a lot more to worry about when it comes to Audits. ICE and Wage and Hour have both been stepping up their efforts to make sure employees are both legal and paid properly.

A recent article by attorneys in the restaurant space outlines how much more raid and audit activity ICE has been working on since the beginning of the year. ICE has more than tripled the audits and raids on employers compared to all of 2017 according to the authors. The article goes on to discuss what employers should do to prepare. More than 5200 employers received notices of intent to audit earlier this year. The advice given in the article is good for all Continue reading