October 25, 2017

Ag Guestworker Bill Clears Committee

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

In a close vote, the House Judiciary Committee passed an amended Agricultural Guestworker Act Oct. 25.

Also known as the AG Act, the bill would replace the H-2A guest worker program under the Department of Labor with what is called an H-2C program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

All committee Democrats and two committee Republicans — Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa — voted against the bill in 17-16 vote.

Under the AG Act, 450,000 visas will be available each year for H-2C workers. Returning H-2A workers and previously unauthorized farmworkers who participate legally in the new program won’t count toward the annual visa limit, according to a summary of the bill.

“It’s time for an ag worker program that both respects our nation’s immigration laws and keeps American agriculture competitive," House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said in a statement. He said Goodlatte’s bill reduces regulations and will provide a flexible program to meet the needs of both specialty crop producers and dairy operations.

Dairy industry leaders applauded the committee for making progress on the path to a solution for the industry's immigration pinch point.

“The AG Act is the first step in a long process of establishing a workable solution for dairy farmers’ labor needs. It recognizes that we must improve on the current system by pursuing a new approach to matching the supply and demand for workers in U.S. agriculture,” says Jim Mulhern of the National Milk Producers Federation. According to NMPF the bill is "not ideal" but  “helps advance our efforts to assure a stable, dependable and legal workforce for America’s dairy farmers, now and in the future.”

“I look forward to working with the ag community and Chairman Goodlatte to help shepherd this legislation through the House,” Conaway said in his statement.

This story was originally reported by Tom Karst and our sister publication The Packer. For more information, visit agweb.com.