OPINION Despite unsuccessful Congressional efforts this past year to secure passage of a revised guest-worker program known as H-2C, there may be an opportunity in newly introduced legislation that would provide a path to legalization for undocumented agricultural workers that are already here.
U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, new chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee, has made worker legalization a priority. She is from California; she knows the issue on agricultural labor because California is the largest employer of agricultural workers in the country. Both she and her staff have told us point-blank they want to deal with it; they want to see if they can get something done.
Lofgren’s bill would create a path to legalization through a “Blue Card” for agricultural workers currently working with falsified documentation. Even though the American Farm Bureau Federation has not taken a formal position on the legislation, it would address a major concern regarding a legal agricultural-labor workforce.
The Blue Card legislation, while a step in the right direction, does not address improvements to H-2A or a new visa guest-worker program. Considered an American Farm Bureau Federation policy priority, revisions are needed to provide a future flow of legal agricultural workers for both seasonal and year-round positions.
What we have not yet seen is a proposal that would give us a broad agricultural guest-worker program that covers all of agriculture such as dairy and livestock, but there are discussions behind the scenes going on. So we’re cautiously optimistic that we’re seeing some movement.
There are preliminary discussions to attempt revisions through an appropriations bill to extend H-2A to non-seasonal jobs. We know that the Trump administration is working on a regulatory proposal on H-2A, and we expect that to come out in the near future. But we also know the Trump Administration cannot extend the program to year-round. They need a law by Congress to do that. That’s why we need to press Congress to act.
Adverse Effect Wage Rate is another potential choke-point for agricultural guest-workers; 47 out of 50 states have experienced an increase in the past 12 months – some with double-digit increases. It’s becoming onerous for a number of farmers right now. Some are saying that if it goes on like this much longer, they just simply can’t stay in business. So as we talk about those issues of a guest-worker program revision, the Adverse Effect Wage Rate is an important part of it.
(For example) even though the minimum wage will increase to $9.45 per hour in Michigan, the Adverse Effect Wage Rate for Michigan farmers using H-2A in 2019 will pay a minimum of $13.54 per hour this year.