Goodlatte to introduce ag guest worker program; grants concessions to United Fresh
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told the United Fresh Produce Association he granted a number of concessions to the group in negotiations over his bill to create an agricultural guest worker program.
In a telephone address to United Fresh’s Washington conference, Goodlatte said he intends to introduce the bill and believes President Donald Trump’s call for a deal with the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA youth created an atmosphere in which immigration legislation is more likely within the next six months.
“Now is the time to resolve this issue,” Goodlatte said, adding most Republicans will not support DACA legislation unless there are “really strong enforcement mechanisms.”
Goodlatte’s bill would replace the H-2A visa agricultural workers’ program, which he called “flawed and time-consuming.”
In the call, Goodlatte said he’s been willing to address concerns about a “numerical cap” on the number of immigrant workers by including a trigger to increase the cap. He said the bill would still require workers to maintain ties with their home countries, but with employer concerns regarding dislocation, he shortened the amount of time for workers’ trips home from one-fifth to one-twelfth of the time they spend working in the United States.
Employers also expressed concerns that workers already present in the United States would have to go home before continuing to work, and Goodlatte said the bill was changed so workers can go home within six months of entering the guest worker program, rather than immediately.
He also noted the bill would not require employers to provide housing and transportation and addresses employers’ concerns about pay levels. While current immigrant agricultural workers are considered seasonal, Goodlatte said his bill would allow workers to be employed full-time in industries such as dairy and forestry.
Goodlatte also said the guest worker program should be tied to a requirement that employers use the e-verify system to establish workers’ authorization to be in the United States. He said agricultural employers would be the last group of employers required to use e-verify, after large employers and small businesses.
United Fresh had said it would be unfair to employers to require stricter use of e-verify without addressing the farm labor shortage.
Goodlatte said the bill is important because “agriculture won’t stay in the United States if we don’t have the proper workforce.” ❖