The Immigration procedures for Sheepherders (an important part of American history, culture and economy) are complex and have always merited special attention by the U.S. Government.
In a special advisory issued in 2001 (ETA Advisory: Field Memorandum No. 24-01), the DOL ETA reviewed the entire history of sheepherders in the U.S. A review of the memorandum is interesting and useful not only for sheepherders, but for stakeholders in the labor certification program, now called PERM.
According to the memorandum, employers in several Western States utilized the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act to "import" non-immigrant foreign workers to work as sheepherders in connection with their ranching activities. The memorandum describes "unique occupational characteristics" including extended periods of time grazing herds of sheep in isolated mountainous terrain, and being on call to protect flocks from predators 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The memorandum states that in the 1950's Congress enacted special laws for sheep-herders and that most of the sheepherders came from Spain. They received special privileges to enter the U.S., i.e., no test of U.S. worker availability or adverse effect at the time.
In 1955 and 1956, the House Judiciary Committee, "in response to requests from sheep ranchers," undertook an investigation to examine allegations that a number of foreign sheepherders who had been admitted under the special laws were, in fact, leaving sheep-herding shortly after arrival in the U.S., and were subsequently employed in other industries and occupations.
In a report issued February 14, 1957, the Committee substantiated these allegations and, as a result, terminated the program with the recommendation that sheepherders be treated as normal H-2 temporary agricultural workers like those "which had enabled many East Coast agricultural employers to utilize the service of British West Indies workers on a temporary or seasonal basis in harvesting such crops as apples and sugar cane."
No further special sheepherder legislation was enacted and a program for temporary labor certification was begun consistent with the H-2 program administered by INS and DOL was begun.
Current procedures now permit Sheep-headers to apply for temporary H-2 visas, and after three years of employment, the foreign workers may be admitted as permanent resident aliens ("green card" holders).
Under current regulations, the PERM Rule (656.16) provides a special filing procedure for permanent labor certification. To apply, the alien must have been employed legally as a non-immigrant sheepherder in the United States for at least 33 of the preceding 36 months and must file an Application for Permanent Employment Certification directly with DHS (accompanying an I-140 petition), not with an office of DOL.
Documentation is satisfied by signed letters from each U.S. employer, attesting that the alien has been employed in the U.S. lawfully and continuously as a sheepherder for at least 33 of the immediately preceding 36 months.
If an application for a sheepherder does not meet these requirements (i.e., 33 months within the preceding 36 months of legal, non-immigrant employment in the U.S.), the applicant may file under the regular labor certification procedure that requires a test of the job market.
The history of Spanish sheepherders in the U.S. is actually linked with Basque immigrants who first came to the U.S. in the mid-1800's for the gold rush in the mid-1800's. As they did not always find a fortune in gold, many of them made a living by providing meat and other supplies to gold diggers. Due to political and economic problems in the Basque Country (a mountainous region between France and Spain), sheep-herding in the U.S. became an attractive option for young Basque emigrants.
Some Basque sheepherders took their wages in sheep instead of cash, and built their own sheep empires. In 1966, 1200 Basque sheepherders were in the U.S.
According to one historian, "Basque ethnic identity in the United States remains tied to the collective past they share of sheep-herding as the door opening to the United States, and even those Basques whose families never were a part of the sheep business still preserve this significant aspect to the history of Basque development in the West."
There are a number of video clips on You-Tube regarding sheep herding, including sheep, sheep dogs, and sheep-herders, including a zany, British version on You-Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68lXUbZb9a8&feature=related