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February 28, 2013

Agriculture Needs New Guestworker Program

For more information on Newsline, contact: Cyndie Sirekis, Director, News Services, American Farm Bureau Federation, cyndies@fb.org.

 
For the first time in ages, Congress seems primed to address immigration reform. American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman told members of Congress that an agricultural guestworker program needs to be part of any new immigration plan. AFBF’s Johnna Miller has that story.
Miller:In a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation testified that changes to the nation’s immigration policy must also address the workforce needs of the nation’s farmers and ranchers.
Stallman:We desperately need – in fact, we have needed for some time – a system that is flexible, adaptable, efficient and economic for producers.
Miller:Stallman told the committee that a coalition of farmers & ranchers from around the country, growing the gamut of commodities, as well as labor unions and worker advocates, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, are working together to come up with a plan to create such a system. It would be administered by the Agriculture Department and eventually replace the antiquated H-2A program that currently regulates agricultural guestworkers.
Stallman:It would provide workers job portability and the freedom to quit and leave for other positions if they wish – a right they currently do not have under H-2A. Importantly, it would broaden the program to all of agriculture, including year-round jobs. There is currently no program, even H-2A, which provides this opportunity to workers or employers. It would allow employers to offer a contract for certain jobs but would not require workers to take such positions, an option they currently do not have.
Miller:Stallman said the new program would give farmers more certainty they would have access to the workforce they need when they need it, which is vital when you grow a perishable crop. AFBF economists estimate that the agricultural economy and the broader U.S. economy are facing $9 billion or more in lost productivity each year this issue is not addressed.
Stallman:In order to provide short-term stability and an orderly, effective transition to this new guestworker program, we believe Congress should include provisions permitting certain workers who have worked in U.S. agriculture, who might not otherwise qualify, to obtain work authorization. Granting existing experienced agricultural workers work authorization is a crucial part of making sure that there is not economic dislocation in the agricultural sector while we transition to a new program.
Miller:Doing that will help the nation’s farmers and ranchers continue to grow food, fiber and fuel. Johnna Miller, Washington.
Miller:Newsline is updated Mondays and Thursdays by 5pm Eastern. Thank you for listening.

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