SPRINGFIELD — Nearly 1,800 temporary work visas have been certified in Illinois so far this fiscal year.
Most of the Illinois visas went to labor-intensive fruit and vegetable farms, the Chicago Tribune reported. There’s no cap on the number of visas that can be issued.
The U.S. Department of Labor issued nearly 166,000 temporary visas in 2016. The visas more than doubled from the number five years ago.
Temporary visa workers are required to be paid a government-set wage that won’t adversely affect U.S. workers. Those workers are generally paid $13 an hour, higher than the state’s $8.25 minimum wage.
Republican lawmakers have introduced proposals to make the program cheaper and easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers. The proposed changes to the program include cutting wages, reducing domestic recruiting requirements and allowing year-round visas for dairy and livestock workers.
Labor advocates, including Farmworker Justice, have opposed most of the Republican measures.
But some farmers are pleased with a bill that will be introduced by Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia that seeks to replace the visa program.
Under Goodlatte’s proposal, seasonal workers with temporary visas would be able to stay in the U.S. for 18 months and year-round workers would be able to stay 36 months.
Democrats are pushing for proposals that offer “blue cards” to visa workers who have worked in agriculture consistently for two years, which would give them legal status.