America is fortunate to have a large and diverse agricultural economy. Our citizens — and millions of others across the world — have grown to depend on the high-quality food and goods we produce.
Our farmers and ranchers face many obstacles in today’s global economy, from international trade and market access to ever-changing technologies and regulations. None of these are as pressing for American agriculture as the lack of a legal, high-quality and reliable workforce.
For decades, American producers have been increasingly reliant on a foreign workforce, or workers who lack lawful immigration status, to grow and harvest their crops for market. The only program for accessing a legal and authorized foreign workforce is the H-2A guestworker program. Farmers and ranchers from each of our home states have pointed to flaws in the program that have been detrimental to the productivity of agriculture.
From the outdated application process, unsustainable costs and convoluted federal jurisdiction to a lack of access for dairy farmers and year-round operations, it is clear the H-2A program needs to work better.
The program — and our nation’s farmers — are in need of meaningful, bipartisan reform.
That is why we joined forces in March to lead a coalition of House colleagues in negotiations with agricultural stakeholders and labor organizations. Out of those efforts, we are proud to announce the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bill that would finally provide stability, predictability and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.
This legislation will finally provide certainty for farmers by overhauling and modernizing the H-2A program to ensure real access to a strong workforce. Gone is the need to file distinct applications and petitions with various agencies at different points along the growing season.
Instead, employers will file a single, streamlined electronic application to cover an entire season’s labor needs. Employers will no longer face wildly fluctuating wage rates or outdated newspaper advertising requirements. Stabilized wage requirements provide predictability and protection from mid-season wage changes, making it simpler for farmers to seek and retain needed workers.
For the first time, this bill provides a legal source of immigrant labor to the dairy industry and other agricultural sectors with year-round labor needs. By increasing flexibility for farmworkers to match with new employers while improving rural housing options, we can offer much-needed stability and fairness for farms and farmworkers across America.
The bill also guarantees certainty for the hard-working farmworkers who have been helping feed the world for decades. This legislation recognizes the essential contributions of our current, experienced workforce by creating a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation’s agricultural sector. Those current workers with significant farm experience are provided access to five-year visas, which provide immediate security to both American farmers and the workers they have come to depend on. With a modernized, employment-based immigration system, farmworkers who have become experts in our fields — thanks to decades of service to America’s farms — will have the option to earn legal status and permanent residence in the United States to ensure the stability of American agriculture.
Finally, with the above reforms in place, the bill would mandate the use of the E-Verify employment eligibility verification system in the agricultural industry. By adapting our immigration system to meet the needs of the agricultural sector, we can ensure access to a safe and legal workforce, encouraging farmworkers to come out of the shadows and continue contributing to our society, legally and without fear.
Farmworkers and a workable H-2A program are vital for the sustainability of farms across the country, but the outdated regulations and mandates that accompany the program put both our producers and our workforce at a disadvantage. With the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, America’s farmers and ranchers will finally have access to the dependable and experienced workforce they need and deserve.
We must improve our agricultural labor programs and laws, and by embracing modernization, this bill will make huge strides for America’s farms.