October 4, 2023

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) is among of group of Congress members that introduced legislation recently that seeks to reform the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.

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The bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 4319), would create a merit-based visa program that is specifically designed for the agricultural sector.

“The top concern for farmers and ranchers in Central Washington and across the nation is labor, and the problem is only getting worse. As a third-generation farmer, I know first-hand how challenging it is for the agriculture industry to hire and retain labor so we can continue to feed America and the world,” Newhouse said. “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the solution to creating a secure, reliable agriculture labor program to provide certainty to our farmers and ranchers for a stable and legal workforce for years to come.”

The bipartisan bill was also sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), John Duarte (R-CA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

The legislation passed in the House of Representatives in both the 116th and 117th Congresses but did not make it out of the Senate.

“In the past few years, we’ve seen labor shortages contribute to high food prices. If it wasn’t obvious before, the pandemic made clear that our country’s agricultural workforce rules are in dire need of reform,” Lofgren said. “The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act stabilizes the workforce, which will protect the future of our farms and our food supply.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was negotiated with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations, and farmworker advocates. It would reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers. It would also establish a program for agricultural workers to choose to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy. Finally, it seeks to make the program more responsive for employers by providing access for year-round labor needs.

It has the support of several organizations, including the International Fresh Produce Association, National Milk Producers Federation, U.S. Apple Association, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Western Growers, American Business Immigration Coalition Action, Washington Winegrowers Association, and the United Farm Workers.

“The UFW welcomes the reintroduction of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Our view is simple: If you feed America, you have earned the right to stay in America. This bill meets that moral imperative – delivering farm workers’ most urgent priority – as well as meeting many of the needs of agricultural employers. Farm workers proved themselves essential during the pandemic and continue to put food on Americans’ tables every day. Legal status for these essential immigrant workers is long overdue and we ask all Members of Congress to work for its passage,” Teresa Romero, president at the United Farm Workers, said.

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