Mar 4, 2021Reforms to H-2A program, merit-based visas part of bill reintroduction program
U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, and Dan Newhouse, R-WA, reintroduced March 3 the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 1537, which creates a workforce solution for America’s agriculture industry by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.
The bill, which passed the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support in the 116th Congress, aims to provide a compromise solution that makes meaningful reforms to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and creates a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation’s agricultural sector.
“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But many of them do so while living and working in a state of uncertainty and fear, which has only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lofgren said in a news release. “Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act accomplishes this by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers and updating and streamlining the H-2A temporary worker visa program while ensuring fair wages and working conditions for all workers. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both Houses of Congress to get this bipartisan legislation that serves the best interests of our country to the President’s desk.”
“American agriculture is desperately in need of a legal, reliable workforce. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a solution – negotiated in good faith by agriculture groups, labor representatives, and Members on both sides of the aisle – that will do just that,” Newhouse said. “As one of only a few farmers in Congress, I understand the invaluable contributions our producers and farmworkers make to our nation’s unparalleled agriculture industry. Bringing our agriculture labor program into the 21st century is absolutely critical as we work to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure a stable food supply chain in the United States. We must act now to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers across the country.”
The bill was negotiated over eight months in 2019 with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations, and farmworker advocates. In December 2019, it became the first agriculture labor reform legislation to pass the House of Representatives since 1986. Since its passage in the House, a bipartisan coalition of Members has been working to strengthen support for the legislation.
Farmers and ranchers across the United States are in desperate need of a high-quality, reliable workforce, and the current H-2A guestworker program is in need of meaningful, bipartisan reform.
- Establishes a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.
- Reforms the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers.
- Focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.
In the 116th Congress, the bill garnered support from over 300 agriculture organizations.
California Farm Bureau supports reintroduction of bill
Saying it would provide mutual benefit for farmers, ranchers and their employees, the California Farm Bureau applauded the reintroduction of federal legislation to improve agricultural immigration programs.
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said in a news release the organization is committed to work for passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
“We were early supporters of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act when it was originally introduced in 2019, and we’re pleased to see its reintroduction,” Johansson said. “Reform of federal immigration law continues to be a top priority for the California Farm Bureau, and this bill would create meaningful changes that would ease chronic employee shortages and recognize the value of farm work.”
The original bill won passage from the House of Representatives in late 2019, based in part on the support of more than 300 agricultural groups and companies.
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act earned bipartisan support at that time by addressing both current and future needs for agricultural employers and employees,” Johansson said. “Its reintroduction will stimulate ongoing discussions about immigration policy. Its passage would improve agricultural visa programs and accommodate immigrant agricultural employees already in the United States, while enhancing border security.”
Johansson said the bill’s reintroduction comes at a particularly important time, as farmers and their employees maintain agricultural production during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Long before the pandemic, we recognized the people who work on California farms and ranches as essential to reliable supplies of healthy food and farm products. The pandemic has only underscored the importance of assuring the people who work on farms and ranches can do so with the security of legal immigration status,” he said.
The California Farm Bureau works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 32,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.
Statement by Jim Bair, President & CEO, U.S. Apple Association
“The U.S. Apple Association applauds today’s reintroduction of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 1537. This legislation is a necessary and important first step in addressing the labor crisis growers and other farmers are experiencing. We thank Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Dan Newhouse and others for reintroducing this meaningful agriculture labor reform that will greatly benefit the U.S. apple industry, which relies heavily on foreign born labor.
“Like the legislation that passed the House in 2019 with broad, bipartisan support, the 2021 Farm Workforce Modernization Act will stabilize the current agricultural workforce by creating a process for them to gain work authorization to continue working in agriculture. The legislation introduced today is substantively the same legislation as in 2019, but includes technical updates to reflect the passing of time.
“The bill also brings needed modernization and cost containment to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. It represents a significant improvement over the status quo for our growers in the H-2A program and those who employ domestic workers. The legislation is a compromise and the first step in a lengthy process. We will continue to provide input and seek improvements as that process moves forward.
“Each year growers coast to coast face uncertainty as to whether there will be sufficient labor to harvest the crop. The current system causes an unstable situation for not only apple growers, but for all farmers who depend on immigrant labor to bring Americans healthy and affordable food. A stable, legal and reliable workforce is critical if we are to continue to have a vibrant domestic apple supply. For these reasons, we urge Congress to pass this legislation so that it can move to the Senate.”
Statement by United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act introduced by Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and Representative Dan Newhouse is a testament to the efforts the agriculture industry and our friends in labor and of course to the bipartisan members of Congress who are supporting this legislation. There remains work to be done to address our industry’s labor challenges, but this bill is an integral first step towards achieving our ultimate goal. United Fresh Produce Association and its members have pushed for this reform for many years and we look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to make it a reality.”
Western Growers offers support
Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia said he appreciated the efforts of Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Dan Newhouseto to keep the agricultural labor crisis front and center in the debate over immigration reform.
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which was passed with bipartisan support in the House in 2019, is the culmination of nearly a decade of negotiations between key stakeholders and represents an important first step toward resolving, once and for all, one of the biggest challenges facing American farmers,” he said.
“Two critical needs for agriculture are addressed in this legislation. First, it provides a mechanism to ensure that farming operations can retain existing, experienced workers.
“Secondly, the bill reforms the visa program to secure a reliable future flow of guest workers. Additionally, after a satisfactory transition period, it includes E-Verify for agricultural employers, demonstrating our industry’s commitment to a long-term labor solution.”
Puglia said Western Growers recognizes that there is more work to be done, but this marks “a major step forward”.
“The viability of family farms and rural communities across the country, as well as a safe and secure domestic food supply, requires an adequate workforce,” he said.
“We will continue working to advance this legislation and enlisting the support of problem-solving legislators of both parties in both houses as well as the Biden Administration this year.”