The proposed reforms, rights and regulations

Immigration Reform: Officially called “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” the Senate bill passed on June 26 with bipartisan support from 68 senators. The bill increases the number of temporary visas available for high- and low-skilled workers but also directs about $46 billion to be spent on border security, a sum that includes doubling the number of troops patrolling the U.S. border with Mexico and implementing new surveillance technologies. 

For the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already living in this country who stand to benefit from the legislation, the key to the bill lies in its third element, a new legalized status and a 13-year pathway to citizenship.

That path requires that immigrants first register for a “provisional” status for 10 years, at a total cost of $1,000. Immigrants must maintain clean criminal records and will not be eligible for most federal benefits. After 10 years, they may apply for a green card — provided they learn English and pay an additional $1,000 penalty. The bill also requires immigrants to prove they’ve been continuously employed and have paid all their taxes since gaining their provisional status.  

These last two requirements in particular will likely present difficulties for domestic workers and others working in the “informal” sector, where contracts are often nonexistent and wages are often paid off the books. Should the Senate bill be passed as written, all employers would also required to use the E-Verify system to determine whether their workers are eligible to work, which could prove a hardship to some domestic employers. 

Nevertheless, because there is a path to citizenship — which is not included at present in the House version of the bill — those who lobbied on behalf of the bill, including domestic workers, celebrated the Senate’s passage of the bill. 

[Related: For nannies and caregivers, legal status isn’t enough]

California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: Under existing California law, housekeepers and nannies are required to be given overtime pay, as well as breaks for meals and rest. A proposed Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights would entitle in-home health care workers in California to those same protections, and would also grant them the right to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep in any 24-hour period. 

The bill, which was passed by the California Assembly in May, also requires employers to provide workers compensation insurance to all domestic workers and award three days of accrued paid time off every year. Domestic workers would also be entitled to use kitchen facilities in the homes of their employers (while respecting the limits in place in the homes of employers who have religious or dietary restrictions).

A State Senate committee approved this bill last week; for it to become law, the bill will need the approval of the full Senate and to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed an earlier version of the bill in 2012. 

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act: One particular class of domestic workers is also pushing for increased protections at the federal level. In 1974, when Congress extended the protections the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to cover domestic workers, it explicitly excluded workers caring for the elderly from the provisions guaranteeing meal and rest breaks, minimum wage protection and overtime pay to all other workers. It also excluded “live-in” workers from its overtime provisions. 

In December 2011, President Barack Obama announced that the rules would be changed to include in-home health care workers among those entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. The Department of Labor proposed specific language to make the change shortly thereafter. But as of press time, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had not finalized the changes to those regulations. 

“The Administration’s regulatory strategy maintains a balance between our obligation to protect the health, welfare, and safety of Americans and our commitment to promoting economic growth, job creation, competitiveness, and innovation,” OMB spokeswoman Ari Isaacman Astles wrote in an e-mail. “OMB works as expeditiously as possible to review rules, and when it comes to complex rules, it is critical that we get them right.”