Farm Bureau: Farmers, ranchers ready for immigration reform
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, received praise this week from the American Farm Bureau Federation for his leadership on legislation that would provide the nation’s farmers and ranchers with access to a legal, stable supply of guestworkers.
The American Guestworker Act, or AG Act, was introduced in Congress on Oct. 2 and marked up by the House Judiciary Committee on Oct. 4. Goodlatte, who chairs that committee, said the bill “replaces the flawed H-2A program with a new, flexible and market-driven guestworker program that is designed to meet the needs of the diverse agriculture industry when not enough American workers can be found.”
The bill would create a new H-2C guestworker program under which 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.
The AG Act 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. The program also would give employers the option to provide housing and transportation for their workers, currently required under the H-2A program. It would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall said the proposed guestworker visa program “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. Although Farm Bureau members have concerns on certain points, such as capping the number of visas, we stand ready to work with Chairman Goodlatte and members of Congress to refine these provisions for the good of all U.S. agriculture.”
Each year, Duvall noted, farmers and ranchers face greater challenges in finding enough workers to keep their businesses running. “The labor shortage on America’s farms and ranches is growing, and the lack of a stable, legal supply of workers places the health of too many farms at risk. We cannot afford to see any more of our nation’s food supply lost in the fields.”