NCFC urges support for legislation and administrative efforts that address the labor crisis facing farmers, ranchers and growers across the U.S. This includes support for the House and Senate to build off efforts in the previous Congress and pass a bipartisan farmworker visa reform bill.
The agricultural industry, through the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) led by NCFC, has united to present a legislative framework that provides actionable solutions for agriculture’s labor needs. Any legislative solution must address our current experienced workforce and ensure the sustainability of U.S. based agricultural production and food security 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. Additionally, legislation must ensure a future workforce for the sustainability of U.S. based agricultural production and food security by providing a flexible and efficient agricultural worker visa program. This would include:
- The availability to all agricultural producers, including cooperatives, without regard to the temporary, seasonal or year-round nature of the job;
- Section 3121(g) of title 26 of the US Code specifically excludes cooperative organizations under the definition of ‘agricultural labor’. Farmer-owned cooperatives are an extension of the farmer – and as such should not be discriminated against in how this definition is applied to the H-2A program.
- A fair and predictable 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; and
- The ability to meet any future industry production expansion labor needs with no arbitrary limits.
It is critically important for legislators to pass immigration reform legislation, particularly as it relates to agricultural labor. Non-action or the status quo is not an option. Agricultural labor reform is not about whether foreign workers will grow and harvest our food. It is about where that food will be grown. Agricultural labor reform is about national security. A country that produces its own food is inherently more secure. We can keep American farms open and productive by reforming the system.
Last Congress, U.S. Reps Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) reintroduced and passed through the House the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA/H.R. 1603) to provide certainty on many aspects of labor for both employers and workers. Senator Micahel Bennet (D-CO) led a similar piece of legislation, the Affordable and Secure Food Act (S. 5282), in the Senate. Unfortunately, S. 5282 was not able to get a vote before the end of the Congress. These two pieces of legislation are widely seen as the starting point for negotiations should another effort materialize this year.
On May 11, 2023, the Republican led House of Representatives passed the Secure the Border Act of 2023. This bill is largely aimed at border security issues resulting from the expiration of Title 42 and the national health emergencies related to COVID-19. This legislation also included mandatory electronic verification (E-Verify). As drafted, this mandatory E-Verify system would decimate the existing farm workforce. We will only support mandatory E-Verify when both stabilization of our existing workforce as well as significant improvements to the H-2A guestworker program are enacted.
In addition, the Biden Administration has published several final and proposed rules amending its regulations in the H-2A program, many of which will increase the cost and complexity of using the program.
Farmers face a shortage of legally authorized and experienced workers each year which threatens the sustainability and security of U.S. based agricultural production. Our national security is tied to our ability to feed ourselves. A nation that can feed themselves without relying on other unstable regions of the world is inherently more secure. This dire labor situation is one of the top issues facing American farmers and they have been asking Congress to address this problem for over twenty years. As a result, more than half of the existing workforce lacks proper legal documentation to work in the United States.
Farmers pay fair wages for workers, but domestic U.S. workers are no longer willing and available to fill open jobs on farms. Farmers have turned increasingly to recruiting foreign labor through the H-2A program to fill these vacant positions, but this program is not open to all farms (such as dairies or mushrooms) and poses challenges for farmers who can use it. It is expensive, difficult to navigate, and imposes regulatory demands that are particularly onerous for small and medium sized producers.
Farmers need the help of Congress to provide long-lasting solutions to these long-standing problems.