House Judiciary to vote on ag guest worker bill
October 4, 2017
The House Judiciary Committee have postponed a hearing on a bill to create a visa category for agricultural guest workers.
The bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would establish a program named H-2C which would replace the H-2A program.
The Agricultural Guestworker or "AG" Act would allow workers to come into the country for full-time jobs in the dairy and livestock industries as well as for seasonal labor, but it would not provide a path toward permanent residency and citizenship.
Goodlatte talked about the proposal at the recent United Fresh Produce Association Washington conference.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the bill would bring "much-needed improvements to the current system while addressing the needs of our current workforce and providing a streamlined visa process for skilled, agricultural workers in the future."
But he added: "Farm Bureau members have concerns on certain points."
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Robert Guenther, the senior vice president for public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, said in an email, "We support Chairman Goodlatte's introduction of the AG Act, as he recognizes the crisis in agricultural labor and the need for a more effective guest worker program."
"We encourage members of the Judiciary Committee to move legislation out of committee so we can begin to make progress on addressing this critical issue," Guenther said.
"We intend to work with Chairman Goodlatte and other Congressional leaders to eventually pass legislation in the House, introduce and pass legislation in the Senate, and finally find a permanent solution in conference that the president will sign."
The National Pork Producers Council announced Oct. 2 it supports Goodlatte's bill.
NPPC noted the bill would allow non-seasonal agriculture workers to remain in the United States for up to three years while deferring a portion of their pay as incentive for them to return to their home country. Workers would need to return for one month for every year in the United States.
An initial cap of 500,000 workers would be allowed under the program, with allowances to adjust the number depending on U.S. agriculture labor demand each year, NPPC added.
"The U.S. pork industry is suffering from a serious labor shortage," said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. "We commend Congressman Goodlatte for sponsoring this important legislation, which allows undocumented workers already in the United States to continue working in vital agriculture jobs."
A coalition of 57 dairy cooperatives and state dairy farmer groups dairy farm organizations, led by the National Milk Producers Federation sent Goodlatte a letter supporting the bill, which would allow farm employers to bring in foreign workers on a year-round basis.
NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern said Goodlatte's bill "is a significant step forward in providing positive, workable solutions for dairy farm employers. It recognizes that we need to move past the status quo and pursue a new approach to matching the supply and demand for workers in U.S. agriculture."
Mulhern said the new visa program would be administered by the agriculture department, not the labor department, which is currently in charge of farm worker visas.
George Rohrer, a dairy farmer in Dayton, Va., and a member of the NMPF board of directors, said farmers "have waited for years for lawmakers to fix our broken immigration system. The AG Act is evidence that Congressman Goodlatte has listened to many of our concerns, and is willing to try a new approach to the problem. As a farmer, it's difficult to plan for tomorrow when you don't know whether you'll be able to hire qualified people today."
Mulhern said the House Judiciary Committee also will consider a measure requiring the use of the E-Verify database program, and NMPF has been clear that mandatory E-Verify participation should only be required if farmers first have protections in place for current workers and access to a future labor pool.
The United Farm Workers and other groups have announced their opposition to the bill.