( File photo )

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition recently published a list of provisions the group wants to see in immigration reform legislation in 2019.

The coalition said a legislative solution must respect the importance of agriculture’s experienced workforce by providing:

  • A mechanism for qualifying farmworkers to continue working in agriculture and/or reside in the U.S. based on agricultural work experience and commitment;
  • A mechanism to earn legal status to work and/or reside in the U.S. based on agricultural work experience and commitment; and
  • A mechanism to protect immediate family members.

In addition, the coalition said the legislation must also include a flexible and efficient agricultural worker visa program that includes:

  • Availability to all agricultural producers without regard to the temporary, seasonal or year-round nature of the job;
  • A “fair and predictable market-based approach” to wages and benefits that does not unduly impede U.S.competitiveness;
  • Flexibility in the length of visas to address the needs of different agriculture sectors;
  • Mobility; and
  • Ability to meet any future industry production expansion labor needs with no arbitrary limits.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and supporter of the coalition,  wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times Feb. 12. In the column, Duvall said America needs a better guest worker program. 

“These realities — a dearth of Americans who want to work on farms, people from outside the U.S. who do want to work on farms, and a law that virtually compels farmers to hire workers who are in the country illegally — give us the situation we have today,” Duvall wrote.

Duvall said the American Farm Bureau was pleased when Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 641. The bill, if passed, would provide a pathway to legalization for agricultural workers already working in the U.S.

But he said that legislation isn’t enough.

“U.S. agriculture needs a guest worker program that will help us replace the workers covered by the Lofgren bill as they age out or move to other sectors of the economy,” Duvall said.

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said there are hundreds of organizations supporting the Agriculture Workforce Coalition. He said that only 10% of the farm labor workforce is provided by the H-2A program, so finding a solution that allows existing workers to remain working is essential.

“You have to take care of both — the folks who are already here, and you have to take of your future flow,” he said.

Marsh said the Trump administration is expected to release a 400-page plus regulatory reform document soon that will seek changes to the H-2A program.