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Goodlatte bill aims at reliable guestworker program for agriculture

The legislation would create a visa program that would ensure a stable workforce for dairy farmers and other agricultural employers with a need for full-time, year-round workers.
Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Published on October 3, 2017 8:16AM

Last changed on October 3, 2017 3:59PM

Courtesy USDA
A bill introduced Oct. 2 in the House of Representatives would provide a visa for year round foreign ag workers.

Courtesy USDA A bill introduced Oct. 2 in the House of Representatives would provide a visa for year round foreign ag workers.

A much-anticipated proposal to replace the H-2A guestworker program is set to be reviewed Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced the bill Monday, saying a replacement for the “outdated and broken” H-2A program is long overdue.

His Agricultural Guestworker Act (AG Act) creates a new H-2C guestworker program to provide farmers with access to a legal, stable supply of workers for year-round employment.

Under the proposal, foreign workers would be allowed an initial stay of 36 months. Subsequent visas for year-round agricultural jobs and all other H-2C visas would afford a work period of 18 months.

It would allow current undocumented workers in agriculture to get an H-2C visa and provides for 500,000 H-2C visas a year with allowances to adjust that number depending on agricultural labor needs.

In addition, the program would give employers the option of providing housing and transportation for their workers — provisions that are required under the H-2A program. It would also put administration under USDA.

“We are very, very pleased after a long time of waiting, the dairy industry can look forward to utilizing a visa program for full-time employment,” said Laurie Fischer, CEO of the American Dairy Coalition.

H-2A is for temporary and seasonal workers, and the dairy industry is not able to utilize that program at all. If passed, the bill will be the first time the dairy industry will have a visa program to ensure a stable workforce, she said.

The bill would also streamline the process and expedite the time between employers applying for workers and receiving them. Because of the bureaucratic red tape in the H-2A program, harvest is often already finished before the process is completed. Putting the new program under USDA should also increase understanding of agricultural needs, she said.

National Milk Producers Federation said Goodlatte’s legislation is a rare opportunity to resolve several of the most challenging aspects of how to create a legal means of addressing the supply and demand elements affecting agriculture.

“America’s dairy farmers and other employers who have perennial and not just seasonal labor needs desperately require a workable program that allows them to access a consistent, legal and dependable workforce,” the organization said in a written statement in response to Capital Press’ request for comment.

NMPF stated the proposal recognizes the status quo is unacceptable and that enforcement-only measures could prove disastrous for the farm sector and cannot be the first or only basis for fixing the broken immigration system.

“The AG Act deals both with the challenges facing current workers while also creating a new visa category to bring in future agriculture workers — workers that our dairy farmers will continue to rely on,” NMPF stated.


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