Keeping the H2C Dream Alive
‘Wait and see’ might work as a strategy to determine how many acres of your alfalfa succumbed to winter kill. But it’s not a prudent nor wise way to do Federal policy, especially immigration reform.
Laurie Fischer, CEO of the American Dairy Coalition (ADC), made that point clear at a seminar ADC hosted at the Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls, S.D. in late March. “Let’s ‘wait and see’ is just not acceptable,” she says. With House Judiciary Committee chair Robert Goodlatte, (R., Vir.) retiring this year, the coming months might be the best opportunity to pass immigration reform. Goodlatte has authored and co-sponsored Securing America’s Future Act, which addresses most concerns over immigration. A key component is a guest worker provision that provides agriculture and dairy with year-round, documented labor.
Fischer acknowledges there is currently no companion bill in the U.S. Senate. “We don’t need an identical bill in the Senate,” she says. The hope is the Senate will leverage President Trump’s obsession with building a border wall into some type of immigration reform package.
“If the Senate passes its own immigration bill, we can go to a conference committee and work with it. Having a House bill puts us in a much stronger position later on,” she says.
Fischer and ADC introduced a new temporary visa worker program, the H2C program, at World Dairy Expo last fall. The H2C program is now included in Goodlatte’s bill. H2C is essentially an extension of the H2A program, which only allows temporary workers to stay in the United States nine months.
H2C would allow workers to stay year-round on a 36-month, renewable visa, with some touchback provisions that would require them to leave the country for a total of 45 days during that time. SAFA would also allow currently undocumented workers that are already here and working on dairy farms to qualify for the H2C program if they pass security and employment requirements. Their H2C Visa would be valid for 24 months, after which time they could apply for a full, 36-month H2C visa. But once they receive their initial H2C visa, these workers would be fully legal and could apply for a driver’s license, for example.
Though the program has passed out of the Judiciary Committee, not everyone, even within agriculture, supports the bill. Some of that reluctance, says Fischer, is based on a misunderstanding about what the program does and doesn’t do.
For that reason, Fischer invited Stephanie Gadbois, senior counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, to come to Sioux Falls March 25 to dispel myths about the proposed H2C program. Gadbois addressed four myths surrounding the immigration reform package.
Myth 1. Currently undocumented workers would have to return to their home countries before they could qualify for H2C. The reality: Currently undocumented workers would have to step outside the borders of the United States to satisfy the “touchback” provision of the SAFA, but they could go anywhere, including Canada, says Gadbois.
Myth 2. The undocumented workers would have to be away for 45 days. The reality: Once undocumented workers are pre-certified, they could simply step across the border. “They could spend as much or as little time outside the United States before joining the H2C,” Gadbois says. This could be as little as an hour or day away.
Myth 3. All employers would have to use E-Verify as soon as SAFA is implemented. The reality: “E-Verify would not be implemented any sooner than six months after [undocumented] workers adjust their status,” says Gadbois. It’s likely that process would take two years after enactment, allowing for the H2C program to be implemented and time for current workers to adjust their legal status.
Myth 4. The H2C program will be capped at 450,000 workers. The reality: It’s true the initial cap will be limited to 450,000 workers, with 40,000 H2C visas reserved for meat and processing jobs and 410,000 going to farm jobs. But the cap does not include currently undocumented workers who qualify for H2C status. “The cap doesn’t count each year for those who are here and have already qualified for the program,” says Gadbois. “So we would probably see two to three times the 450,000 number under H2C once the program is implemented in a few years.” Plus, the cap increases 10% each year.
Gadbois acknowledges SAFA is not written in stone since it could change because the Senate will likely have its own version of immigration reform. But the sooner 218 votes can be secured in the House of Representatives, the sooner it can move to the House floor for a vote and then wait for Senate action. “We need other ag commodity groups to support it and farmers to show their support by contacting their members of Congress,” she says.