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NC’s agricultural and business sectors could see boost from “Gang of Eight’s” immigration reform

Charles Dharapak
Associated Press

The Gang of Eight, made up of four Republicans and four Democrats, introduced their bipartisan immigration reform plan yesterday.  The new legislation sets up several ways both seasonal and year-round workers – including undocumented immigrants – can keep their jobs in the United States. 

That’s a boon for North Carolina’s agricultural industry, says Linda Andrews, National Legislative Director for the Farm Bureau, a long-time advocate for immigration reform.  Andrews says the bill creates a new visa program that allows immigrants to work in the U.S. for a season and leave by a pre-determined exit date.  The arrangement for year-round workers, important to North Carolina’s livestock industry, would allow immigrants to stay for longer periods.

“They will have this visa and they will be able to continue to stay in United States for up to three years.  During that time, they will also be able to return to their home country… But there are so many days that they can be out-of-country and re-enter back in to continue their commitment.”
Andrews says the Farm Bureau is encouraging Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr to support the Gang of Eight’s legislation.

North Carolina business leaders are also applauding the efforts.  Limits on the number of people that can enter the United States from a particular country often bar high-skilled workers from getting a work visa.  This Senate Bill would eliminate those caps.  Morgan Jackson is a spokesman for the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of Mayors and business leaders from across the country.  Jackson says this kind of reform is a top legislative priority.  Companies are eager, he says, for expanded access to college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“You hear all the time that folks like IBM and Microsoft say they’ve got three thousand jobs open right now across the country that they cannot fill because they don’t have the STEM graduates to do it.  And a lot of times these are folks who are getting educated at North Carolina universities.  But, unfortunately, once their visa runs out, they have to go back home wherever home is.”
The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday morning.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.