U.S. industry groups welcome reintroduction of Farm Workforce Modernization Act
Various U.S. agricultural industry groups and associations have welcomed the bipartisan reintroduction of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
The bill would make it easier for farmers to hire workers by simplifying the H-2A application process and increasing the availability of green cards and visas for year-round workers, according to the National Farmers Union (NFU).
It would also establish a program for workers who have been engaged in agricultural work for at least two years and plan to continue working in agriculture to earn legal status, the NFU said.
Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia said he appreciated the efforts of Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Dan Newhouseto to keep the agricultural labor crisis front and center in the debate over immigration reform.
"The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which was passed with bipartisan support in the House in 2019, is the culmination of nearly a decade of negotiations between key stakeholders and represents an important first step toward resolving, once and for all, one of the biggest challenges facing American farmers," he said.
“Two critical needs for agriculture are addressed in this legislation. First, it provides a mechanism to ensure that farming operations can retain existing, experienced workers.
"Secondly, the bill reforms the visa program to secure a reliable future flow of guest workers. Additionally, after a satisfactory transition period, it includes E-Verify for agricultural employers, demonstrating our industry’s commitment to a long-term labor solution."
Puglia said Western Growers recognizes that there is more work to be done, but this marks "a major step forward".
"The viability of family farms and rural communities across the country, as well as a safe and secure domestic food supply, requires an adequate workforce," he said.
"We will continue working to advance this legislation and enlisting the support of problem-solving legislators of both parties in both houses as well as the Biden Administration this year."
United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel said: “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act introduced by Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA) is a testament to the efforts the agriculture industry and our friends in labor and of course to the bipartisan members of Congress who are supporting this legislation."
"There remains work to be done to address our industry’s labor challenges, but this bill is an integral first step towards achieving our ultimate goal," he said.
"United Fresh Produce Association and its members have pushed for this reform for many years and we look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to make it a reality."
U.S. Apple Association
Jim Bair, President & CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, said the legislation is a "necessary and important first step in addressing the labor crisis" and will "greatly benefit the U.S. apple industry", which relies heavily on foreign-born labor.
“Like the legislation that passed the House in 2019 with broad, bipartisan support, the 2021 Farm Workforce Modernization Act will stabilize the current agricultural workforce by creating a process for them to gain work authorization to continue working in agriculture," he said.
"The legislation introduced today is substantively the same legislation as in 2019, but includes technical updates to reflect the passing of time."
“The bill also brings needed modernization and cost containment to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, he said.
It represents a "significant improvement" over the status quo for our growers in the H-2A program and those who employ domestic workers.
“Each year growers coast to coast face uncertainty as to whether there will be sufficient labor to harvest the crop," he said. "The current system causes an unstable situation for not only apple growers but for all farmers who depend on immigrant labor to bring Americans healthy and affordable food.
"A stable, legal and reliable workforce is critical if we are to continue to have a vibrant domestic apple supply. For these reasons, we urge Congress to pass this legislation so that it can move to the Senate.”