By Barbara Olejnik
Poultry Times Staff
WASHINGTON — Proposed legislation to create a new agricultural guestworker program for U.S. farmers and ranchers has been introduced in Congress.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has introduced the Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 to create an H-2C visa program to allow U.S. employers access to a legal and stable supply of workers.
The Act replaces the H-2A guestworker program which required employers to comply with a lengthy and slow labor certification process.
“For far too long, the broker H-2A guestworker program has buried American farmers in red tape and excessive costs without delivering access to a stable and reliable workforce,” Goodlatte said. “It’s clear that the current program is outdated and broken for American farmers, and it’s well past the time to replace it with a reliable, efficient and fair program that provides American farmers access to a legal, stable supply of workers, both in the short- and long-term,. for seasonal as well as year-round work.”
The National Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council and North American Meat Institute said they were “encouraged by this important step” to help ensure a reliable workforce for the meat and poultry industry.
“With today’s workforce shortages, access to a pool of legal immigrant workers through a viable visa program is critical to the turkey industry and the long-term success of the U.S. economy,” said Joel Brandenberger, NTF president.
NCC President Mike Brown said that the legislation is an “important first step” for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. “The creation of the H-2C program would serve the diverse interests of the agriculture and food manufacturing industries and will boost the modern agriculture labor market.”
Barry Carpenter, NAMI president and CEO, noted that the meat and poultry industry depends on a stable reliable workforce. “The Agricultural Guestworker Act, which, if passed, will offer our members an additional avenue for securing valuable employees when local workers are simply unavailable.”
Under the bill, the guestworker program is administered by USDA and covers year-round employers like dairies, aquaculture operations, food processors and others.
The ACT provides that 500,000 visas will be available each year for H-2C workers. Returning H-2A workers and previously unauthorized farmworkers who participate legally in the new program will not count toward the annual visa limit.
The H-2C program also gives employers the option of providing housing and transportation for their workers.
A summary of the bill establishing the guestworker program is available at https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Ag-Act.pdf