WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bipartisan bill tackling some of the problems facing U.S. agriculture and supporters say it could make life for farm employers and workers more predictable.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would streamline the federal government’s H-2A guest-worker program by which growers hire farm workers. The legislation would also create a merit-based visa program for agricultural workers to earn legal status through their continued employment. Supporters say that will help fill the gap between workers’ availability and the demand for year-round workers, particularly in dairying and horticulture. They also say the existing H-2A guest-worker program does not meet businesses’ employment requirements and has long needed change.
House members voted 260-165 to pass the bill with Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning) among those who voted in favor of it. Reed’s office said the bill was also endorsed by the Problem Solvers Caucus, of which the Corning Republican serves as co-chair.
“I hear it every time I step on family farms in Upstate New York — ‘when is Washington going to do something about access for farm labor?’” Reed said in a media release sent out Wednesday night. “This common sense bipartisan compromise is a step in the right direction for this decades old problem, and will deliver relief to the farmers we care about across the nation to give them fair access to workers they need to prosper. I am proud the Problem Solvers Caucus could get behind this bill as we pushed it over the finish line in the House and onto the Senate.
“However, this is just the start of immigration reform. We must secure our southern border and continue to fight to ensure a merit-based system is fully implemented – such as the one proposed by President Trump this spring,” Reed concluded.
Over 300 agriculture organizations from around the country also supported the bill, including the New York Farm Bureau (NYFB).
“New York Farm Bureau is encouraged by the swift movement on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in the U.S. House. We appreciate the bipartisan support from many members of New York’s congressional delegation, and we now call on the U.S. Senate to support the bill as well,” said David Fisher, New York Farm Bureau President.
“Access to a reliable workforce is a critical issue for Upstate New York dairy farmers like me,” said family farmer David White from Clymer. “I milk my cows 365 days a year. Current agricultural visa programs are seasonal and therefore don’t provide a solution to dairy’s unique challenges. I commend Congressman Tom Reed for his work to support and pass the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act to address this critical issue for our Upstate economy.”
“NYFB is still advocating for some changes to improve the legislation, including to the cap on year-round guest worker visas, ensuring a fair and competitive wage rate, and establishing a workable threshold for agricultural employment. Regardless, this legislation would take a significant step to ensure that New York agriculture is positioned to have a sustainable and reliable workforce that will support our rural economy,” added Fisher.