- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

GOP leaders added a massive infusion of low-skilled foreign workers to their immigration bill Tuesday, hoping to win over reluctant Republicans with business-friendly provisions.

The number of low-skilled seasonal workers — those who pick crabs, work amusement parks or mow lawns — will be allowed to triple under the new plan.

The proposal also includes a new guest-worker program for agriculture workers, hoping to appease farmers who fear they’ll lose their current, heavily illegal, workforce under the other provisions of the GOP’s compromise immigration bill.

A vote is expected Wednesday, and GOP leaders were making a hard sell to members.

“I want to lean into that vote and do as well as we possibly can on that vote,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said.

But lawmakers are also beginning to think about what happens if the bill fails — an outcome analysts said is still likely.

A more enforcement-heavy bill failed last week on a 231-193 vote. Moderate Republicans who thought the bill was too harsh, and conservatives who thought it too generous to illegal immigrants, joined all Democrats in opposition.

The House had been poised to vote on the other “compromise” bill, written by moderates and conservatives, last week, but delayed the vote after it was clear the bill would fail.

In the days since, both sides have tried to add sweeteners.

The biggest one is requiring use of E-Verify, an electronic system for businesses to check that their new hires are in the country legally and eligible to work. Supporters say that will cut down on the jobs magnet that draws illegal immigrants to the U.S.

But farms, whose workforce is heavily illegal, feared losing half of their workers. They demanded a guest-worker program so they can keep a supply of legal foreign agriculture workers.

The bill envisions up to 460,000 visas under that guest-worker program — though the numbers could be boosted if demand is high.

The seasonal unskilled visas, known as the H-2B visa program, were also added at the last minute.

The H-2B program has been controversial for years, with a number of lawmakers saying their tourism and seafood industries need the foreign workers.

Congress set the annual cap at 66,000 H-2B workers, divided in half between winter and summer seasons.

The new GOP proposal would potentially allow a tripling of the H-2B cap by allowing anyone who came in either of the last two years not to be counted against this year’s cap.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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