November 7, 2019
Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act on October 30 with more than 50 co-sponsors. UEP supports this bill and will continue to advocate for improvements to help address the labor issues faced by egg producers.
The bill provides significant improvements to the H-2A program by simplifying the application process, modernizing recruitment, and providing Certified Agricultural Workers (CAW) the opportunity to apply for a green card. The bill includes language defining the applicable workers as those involved in all branches of farming and also extends the definition to cover workers in processing/market preparation and transportation operation, which will include many jobs at egg operations.
The bill would reduce the time and cost of the H-2A program while increasing program flexibility. Employers would have a single filing process that reflects staggered labor needs for the whole season through an online portal. Employers would also be required to post job postings online, rather than in newspapers. Additionally, the bill would adopt the disaggregate wage for agricultural occupations, to better reflect actual wages paid to specific types of workers and prevent wage fluctuations through a one-year wage freeze and a cap on the annual percent change for the following years.
The bill reduces housing costs with funding to help preserve existing housing, incentivizing new housing, and increasing funding for the USDA 521 rental assistance grant program.
The bill also helps fill year-round labor needs with temporary 3-year visas and increasing the number of green cards. It creates a capped program for employers seeking temporary workers to fill year-round needs, but gives the Secretary authority to increase the cap when market conditions warrant. The bill designates an additional 40,000 green cards per year for agricultural workers.
The bill would establish a program for agricultural workers to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment. Individuals would also be provided the opportunity to earn Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status.
Finally, the bill establishes a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system. The system would only be made mandatory for the agricultural sector and would include a phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers that may be incorrectly rejected, while protecting employers who are inadvertently harmed while implementing the new system.
Overall, this bill would provide U.S. farmers and ranchers with a legal and reliable workforce to ensure the stability of American agriculture.
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