When House lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after their August recess, the legislative clock will be counting quickly down to the scheduled mid-October break ahead of the elections in November. This leaves only 19 in-session days to address one of agriculture’s major worries: the labor shortage.
With this tight timeline looming, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is hoping to soon move the American Farm Bureau-supported Ag and Legal Workforce Act of 2018 (H.R. 6417). The measure would replace the H-2A agricultural guest worker program with a new H-2C program that would be available to both seasonal and year-round agricultural employers. The new program aligns closely with many AFBF policy provisions, making it less bureaucratic and less expensive for growers.
While AFBF does not support the cap on the number of visas included in the bill, sponsors of the measure have sought to address these concerns by lengthening the visa term to three years, not counting returning H-2A workers or current undocumented workers who come forward against the cap limit and also by granting emergency authority to the USDA secretary to grant more visas if the cap is reached during the first two years of the program.
“We continue to work to improve the legislation, but the AFBF board of directors unanimously came to the conclusion that the Ag and Legal Workforce Act of 2018 addresses many of agriculture’s labor concerns,” said Paul Schlegel, managing director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “The legislation is likely the only ag labor reform bill with any traction, meaning it’s farmers and ranchers’ best hope this year for much-need changes to ensure a reliable workforce.”
The bill has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote but AFBF is pressing leadership to schedule the bill for debate and a vote in September.
Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to ask their representatives to demonstrate support for the bill by signing on as cosponsors. Click here to send your message.