The Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition today praised the introduction of legislation that would assist in establishing a stable workforce that can help sustain the rural communities where farmers, ranchers and food manufacturers grow and process the nation’s and world’s food supply.
“The introduction of this legislation, and the bill introduced in the Senate, are important first steps in the immigration reform process, which will be a dynamic debate featuring many proposals to reform our flawed immigration process,” the coalition said. “We commend Chairman Goodlatte, and we look forward to working on a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.”
The “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., replaces the impractical H-2A program with a sensible guestworker program. The new program, known as H-2C, modernizes and streamlines the agricultural guestworker program and would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency that understands the unique needs of America’s food manufacturers and farm and ranch operations.
The existing temporary programs for general labor skilled workers are for seasonal labor only. Under the “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” the H-2C program would offer workers and employers more choices in their employment arrangements, creating more flexibility and making it easier for workers to move freely throughout the marketplace to meet demands. This new program will support food manufacturers, cattle operations, dairies, hog and poultry farms and other year-round agricultural employers.
“An effective occupational visa system may be the most important barrier to illegal immigration,” the coalition said. “The right visa system with the right screening tools will in effect be a ‘virtual border.’ The ‘Agricultural Guestworker Act’ and 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.”
Since not all agriculture jobs are the same or require the same level of skill and experience, the H-2C program would give employers the opportunity to invest their time in training workers for jobs by allowing them an initial stay of 36 months. Workers would then be required to leave for up to three months. After the period of leave, each H-2C visa holder would only be required to leave once every 18 months. This would provide farm labor stability and would encourage illegal farm workers to identify themselves and participate in the H-2C program.
Testimony delivered in February on behalf of the Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition, which outlines the group’s major themes for immigration reform, is available by clicking here.