Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bill U.S. House Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) introduced earlier this month. The goal of the bipartisan legislation is to address the shortage of workers in U.S. agriculture by building a reliable, legal workforce.
“The immigration system is broken across the board everywhere—not only for the people, whether it be DREAMers, families, businesses large and small—but certainly the ag community,” said Upton.
Upton has heard farmer concern from those who have lost more than $100,000 a year due to the lack of farm workers to pick specialty crops.
Since the modern H2A program hasn’t been modified in more than 30 years, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act recognizes the shortcomings of the H2A program.
“It encourages workers to stay in the ag field where if they commit to five years, they can pursue a green card,” he said. “They can have legal status here and provide a stable workforce for the community where they want to work.”
The bill also puts a ceiling and a floor in for what wages can be instead of giving that power to the Department of Labor.
Applicants must prove they have worked in agriculture for 180 days over the last two years, and then they’re provided with a five-year renewable agricultural work visa.
“It keeps people employed in the ag sector where we need them,” Upton said. “There are some ag industries that really need people 12 months a year, and this addresses that as you look at the whole H2A program.”
Upton recognizes the bill isn’t perfect, but hopes that since it is a bipartisan effort, it will get done and alleviate problems farmers have had.
“At the end of the day, we won’t have nearly as many farmers who leave unpicked crops in the field,” he said. “That obviously hurts farm income and the vitality of so many different communities throughout the Midwest.”