A Senate committee on immigrant farmworkers heard witnesses speaking in favor of modernizing the guest worker system.
The House has already passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that would give legal status to undocumented workers and allow H-2A guest workers to work year-round in certain ag sectors. The bill is supported by more than 300 agricultural groups, but the Senate has yet to come up with its own bill to move the legislation forward.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Senate Judiciary Committee a modernized guest worker system is needed to address farmworker shortages.
Vilsack: “ it starts with a cumbersome process that requires multiple applications, a lot of paperwork, not the use of digital technology to make it simpler and easier. And that discourages or makes it more difficult to get the workforce on a timely basis. The reality is timing matters, timing is everything in agriculture. If you don’t plant at the right time, if you don’t harvest at the right time it impacts and affects the quality of what you produce and that in turn impacts the price that you get in the market and in turn creates challenges for farming operations. To the extent that we have a stable and secure system that’s predictable, it allows farmers and ranchers, and producers to plan expansion opportunities, allows them to be as efficient and profitable as possible. It also creates protections for workers and ensures that there’s an adequate wage and decent housing and things of that nature for our farmworkers who work incredibly hard. I think it begins to send a message about the significance and importance of this essential workforce from the perspective of respect.
The National Pork Producers Council president told the committee that packing plants could shut down and production costs will increase if something isn’t done to increase foreign workers. She said the H2A Visa program doesn’t meet pork producers' year-round needs.
Florida and Georgia are among the top states using H-2A guest workers. They, along with North Carolina, California, and Washington account for about 55% of all H-2A jobs.