Oct 30, 2019
Farm Workforce Modernization Act introduced

U.S. House lawmakers on Oct. 30 unveiled a bipartisan agriculture labor package that would offer a path to legalization for farmworkers and expand the H-2A visa program for foreign labor.

This is an immigration reform bill to improve agricultural job opportunities, benefits and security for undocumented workers in the United States. This bill also allows for the petition of spouses and children to be granted status as well. The title of the legislation is “Farm Workforce Modernization Act.”

The landmark legislation aims to address the shortage of workers available in the U.S. agriculture industry by helping build a legal and reliable workforce.

Introduced by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, and Dan Newhouse, R-Washington – would provide agricultural workers an opportunity to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment, improve the H-2A visa program, and establish a mandatory E-Verify for the agriculture industry.

Under the legislation, a new stringent employment-based program would be created for the current agricultural workforce, requiring significant past and future work commitments, to ensure the stability of American agriculture.

Furthermore, as part of its improvements to the H-2A visa program, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates year-round access to the H-2A program for dairy and other agricultural sectors that are facing labor shortages but have been unable to utilize the program. Without this legislation, year-round agriculture does not have access to a legal immigrant workforce.

Several statements of support were issued by organizations connected to specialty crops production.

Western Growers

In response to the introduction of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act by Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Dan Newhouse, Western Growers President & CEO Tom Nassif issued the following statement:

“On behalf of Western Growers members, farmers across the country who depend on an adequate supply of labor for their livelihoods, and American consumers who prefer a safe and secure domestic food supply, we wish to thank Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Dan Newhouse for approaching the agricultural labor crisis in a thorough, practical and bipartisan manner.

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses two critical needs for American agriculture – to retain existing, experienced workers and to ensure a reliable future flow of guest workers. Furthermore, after a satisfactory transition period, the bill includes E-Verify for agricultural employers, demonstrating the commitment our industry has made toward a long-term labor solution.

“The introduction of this bill, which is the product of many months of dedicated work and careful negotiation between legislators, staff, and key stakeholders, constitutes an agreement that few thought was possible. However, this is just the beginning. What lies ahead is a very important process that will require the support of both political parties and the president.

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has the resounding support of the agriculture community, and contains principles that have historically received backing on both sides of the aisle. We, along with our Congressional champions and partners in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, commit ourselves to moving the Farm Workforce Modernization Act forward this legislative session.” 

United Fresh Produce Association

“The United Fresh Produce Association applauds the introduction of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This legislation represents an important step forward addressing to the challenge that the fresh produce industry faces with regards to labor availability and answers the call from the industry in September during United Fresh’s Washington Conference.”

“I want to thank Chairwoman Lofgren and Congressman Dan Newhouse for their leadership in introducing this bill. Joined by a broad, bipartisan group of legislators, these two members have reached an agreement that will reform our immigration system for generations to come”, said Tom Stenzel, President & CEO, United Fresh Produce Association. “More work is needed to improve this legislation, but in a time where Washington can’t seem to agree on anything, these members have stepped forward and recognized that the challenge of immigration reform is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it is an American problem, and we need to fix it.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide legal status for long-term agriculture workers, make vital improvements to the H-2A visa program and ensure security for all by requiring that agriculture employers participate in the E-Verify program.”

U.S. Apple Association

“The U.S. Apple Association applauds Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Dan Newhouse and others for the introduction of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act, meaningful agriculture labor reforms that will greatly benefit the U.S. apple industry, which relies heavily on foreign born labor,” said Jim Bair, president and CEO, U.S. Apple Association.

 “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act will stabilize the current agricultural workforce by creating a process for them to gain work authorization to continue working in agriculture. The bill also brings needed modernization and cost containment to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.

“The legislation represents a significant improvement over the status quo for our growers in the H-2A program and those who employ domestic workers. The legislation is a compromise and the first step in a lengthy process. We will continue to provide input and seek improvements as that process moves forward.

“Each year growers coast to coast face uncertainty as to whether there will be sufficient labor to harvest the crop. The current system causes an unstable situation for not only apple growers, but for all farmers who depend on immigrant labor to bring Americans healthy and affordable food. A stable, legal and reliable workforce is critical if we are to continue to have a vibrant domestic apple supply. For these reasons, we urge Congress to pass this legislation.” 

 California Farm Bureau

“Noting that California farmers and ranchers have long sought reforms and improvements to immigration laws that would enhance the lives of agricultural employees and their families, the California Farm Bureau Federation said it supports a bipartisan bill introduced today.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., would improve agricultural visa programs and accommodate immigrant agricultural employees already in the United States, while assuring border security.

“This comprehensive legislation contains key elements that address current and future workforce needs for agricultural employers and employees in California and throughout the nation,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “The reforms in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 will provide much-needed solutions for agricultural employers and employees.”

The act would allow immigrant agricultural employees in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment.

“We need to deal fairly with the existing agricultural workforce and their immediate families,” Johansson said. “The people who work on farms and ranches are valued members of rural communities. Their contributions to our communities and our food system should be recognized by allowing them a chance to gain legal status.”

The bill would also modernize and streamline the existing H-2A agricultural visa program, to provide more flexibility for employers and ensure critical protections for foreign employees.

“Improvements to the H-2A program would make it much more flexible and valuable to California farm employers and employees,” Johansson said. “For example, a pilot program in the bill would allow H-2A employees to move from farm to farm for employment, a portability option California producers have long sought. And, for the first time, the bill would accommodate guestworker visas for year-round operations such as dairies and nurseries.”

National Council of Farmers Cooperative

Statement of NCFC President Chuck Conner on the Introduction of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act:

“I would like to applaud Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Dan Newhouse for their leadership in introducing bipartisan legislation to address labor crisis faced by American agriculture. Throughout the process, they were open to input from stakeholders, including NCFC and the other members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is an important first step in the process of passing legislation to help farmers and ranchers across the country find the employees they need to harvest crops or care for livestock.

“The legislation points the way towards achieving many of the long-standing immigration reform goals of NCFC and others in agriculture. While there are provisions that are problematic, on balance it is a good starting point for the legislative process. It provides an opportunity to obtain an earned legal status for the current workforce in agriculture; it codifies many of the reforms that the Trump Administration has made to the current H-2A program and provides some certainty over labor costs; and it authorizes a limited number of year-round visas for those farmers with year-round labor needs, such as those in dairy and livestock.

“We look forward to working with Chairwoman Lofgren, Congressman Newhouse and the other co-sponsors as the bill moves forward to ensure that the bill leads to a solution that ensures agriculture producers have access to a legal and stable workforce.”


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