New bill promises improvements for US farm workforce

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a bill that seeks to ensure a stable and legal workforce for farms, ranches and other agricultural producers. They did this with support from the California Farm Bureau Federation and many other agricultural groups around the state and nation.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Rep. Dan Newhouse officially unveiled the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 on Capitol Hill last week. The bill's provisions would pave the way to legal status for immigrant agricultural employees already in the U.S., improve the H-2A visa program for non-immigrant guest workers and help assure border security.

"This comprehensive legislation contains key elements that address current and future workforce needs for agricultural employers and employees in California and throughout the nation," CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. "The reforms in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 will provide much-needed solutions for agricultural employers and employees."

The bill's provisions protecting those already living and working in the United States are particularly important to Johansson.

"We need to deal fairly with the existing agricultural workforce and their immediate families," he said. "The people who work on farms and ranches are valued members of rural communities. Their contributions to our communities and our food system should be recognized by allowing them a chance to gain legal status."

The bill would allow those working in agriculture in the U.S. to earn legal status as a Certified Agricultural Worker, so long as they can show at least 180 days of agricultural employment during the previous two years. Qualified applicants would receive five-year renewable visas; to renew, the visa holder must put in at least 100 days of agricultural work per year. The program would also cover the employee's spouse and minor children.

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