In an effort to stimulate Oklahoma’s economy and allow the state to be more competitive with out-of-state companies, Sen. Harry Coates filed the Oklahoma Guest Worker Program Act Monday. Senate Bill 995, which is similar to Utah efforts, would allow illegal immigrants to legally work in the state providing a boost to sales and tax revenues. The bill will stop workers from continuing to flee to surrounding states such as Texas as well as attract hundreds of workers back to jobs that are chronically unfilled in the state.
“Since the passage of House Bill 1804, we’ve seen a mass exodus of undocumented immigrants who have taken up residence in Texas and other surrounding states where they pump millions of dollars into those economies,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “House Bill 1804 did little more than put Oklahoma companies at a disadvantage by sending dedicated, knowledgeable workers to competing companies in other states. Losing that workforce has been devastating for many of Oklahoma’s industries including agriculture, energy and construction.”
Coates explained that out-of-state companies are now coming to Oklahoma, competing for and winning contracts with the workforce that was driven out of the state by HB 1804. He pointed to the 2010 hail storms in Oklahoma City where much of the repair work was performed by Texas companies, simply because in-state businesses could not supply an adequate workforce.
“While the authors of HB 1804 perhaps originally had good intentions, we’re seeing that the bill has put millions of dollars in the pockets of out-of-state companies who have eagerly welcomed the workforce we chased away,” said Coates. “Until the federal government steps up and passes meaningful immigration reform, we’re only shooting ourselves in the foot by not figuring out a way to keep these workers, who contribute so much to our economy.”
Under Coates’ bill, the state Department of Labor would administer the program which would allow undocumented individuals, 18 years of age or older, to stay in the state legally if they purchase a guest worker permit for $2,000. Individuals would also have to find a guest worker program sponsor who would agree to hire them as well as provide them with basic health insurance coverage. Should a worker lose his or her job, they would have 30 days to find another employer to sponsor them.
In order to be eligible, workers would have to agree to a criminal background check and not have a felony on their record. They would also have to provide a residential address as well as a phone number in order for officials to be able to keep in contact with them.
SB 995 would also establish an immediate family permit that would provide protection to the immigrant’s immediate family members including spouses and children. Each family member would be required to purchase a permit for $500.
Coates explained his bill would accomplish several things. First, it would provide a way for undocumented individuals to legally work here and provide for their families as well as contribute to Oklahoma’s economy. Second, it would allow the state to track illegal immigrants. Next, it would hold businesses that hire undocumented individuals accountable and mandate severe penalties for those who do not follow the law. Businesses found violating the new law would face a $5,000 fine, per individual, for each incident of noncompliance. Lastly, it would provide health benefits to undocumented workers, saving taxpayers from having to pay for the medical costs of emergency room visits. Often that is the only place illegal immigrants can get medical care being that doctors are constitutionally required to treat anyone seeking help regardless of their citizenship status.
“The federal government won’t take care of the immigration issue so it’s up to the states. This program is about supporting good, hardworking people and their families while avoiding any financial burden on taxpayers. All they want is to earn a living and provide for their families and this bill would help them do that without fear of being deported,” said Coates. “By stimulating our local economies this program will generate additional jobs and business opportunities
for all Oklahomans. It’s a win-win for the state and these families.”
The federal government would need to grant a waiver to allow for the Oklahoma Guest Worker Permit Program.
Difference between Oklahoma and Utah Guest Worker Program legislation:
- SB 995 requires an employer sponsor
- SB 995 dictates permit fees and penalties for noncompliance
- SB 995 limits the definition of immediate family to spouses and children
- SB 995 allows for revocation of permits for workers convicted of a felony as well as
any immediate family members convicted of a felony