A comprehensive, bi-partisan immigration reform bill was filed today by the "gang of eight" U.S. Senators. We've written previously about the abuses endured by many workers under the existing guest worker programs (here, here, here, here) and I am particularly curious to see the remedies proposed in the bill. It will take me a few weeks to digest the 844-page bill, but I took a quick peek for provisions related to labor' rights and workplace safety. Here is some of what I read:
(1) The bill would create a new visa program (a W-visa) for low-skilled immigrant workers. (See Subtitle G at page 775 (here)) The number of visas, types of jobs eligible and in what geographic location does a labor need exist would be determined by a new agency called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. Employers would register with the Secretary of Labor to become eligible to hire under the W-visa program. Unlike current law, the Secretary of Labor may deny an employer's application, however, if in the last two years, the employer has:
- violated regulations to protect children and teen workers from dangerous occupations and tasks which resulted in injury or death of a youngster;
- repeatedly or willfully violated minimum wage and/or overtime rules; or
- repeatedly or willfully violated federal or State OSHA regulations that lead to a worker injury or death.
The employer would remain ineligible for three years. Employers convicted of human trafficking would be permanently ineligible to register to hire under the W-visa program.
(2) Title III of the bill (beginning at page 395 (here)) is targeted at companies that unlawfully employ aliens. It's a hefty part of the legislation, covering more than 100 pages. A provision entitled "unlawful and abusive employment" indicates:
"...any person who, during any 12-month period, knowingly employs or hires, recruits, or refers for employment 10 or more individuals within the United States" AND violates OSHA's requirement to provide a safe workplace (Section 5(a)) or minimum wage or prevailing wage requirements, could be subject to up to 10 years in prison.
(3) Section 3105 (at page 512 (here)) would enhance employment protections for authorized immigrant workers to prevent discrimination based on an individual's citizenship status.
(4) Section 4221 (at page 695 (here)) would give new authority to the Secretary of Labor to investigate complaints about H-1B employers, such as software and other high-tech firms.
As I read through the entire bill, I'll be paying close attention to provisions designed to remedy the many abuses in the current guest worker program, including solutions offered in the International Labor Recruitment Working Group's blueprint. For now, I'll give credit to the Senate sponsors of the bill and their staff. They've helped move our nation closer to a time when unauthorized workers can come out from the shadows, and exercise their rights to fair wages and safe working conditions.
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