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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Re-introduced bill would reform parts of agricultural guest worker system

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2021 at 10:28 AM

A piece of legislation recently reintroduced by U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal and a group of bipartisan House members aims to streamline the U.S. agricultural guest worker program and provide a path to legal status for farmworkers.

Called the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, Carbajal told the Sun that the bill will be on the House floor for a vote next week. The act, which passed in the House last Congress with bipartisan support, includes three main components: earned legalization, reforming the H-2A program, and creating an E-Verify system for all agricultural employment.

The last time the bill passed the House, 34 Republicans joined Democrats in voting for it.

“We’re hoping to get as many of those to continue to stay on next week,” Carbajal said.

The nine members who crafted the legislation include five Democrats and four Republicans.

The bill creates a whole new type of temporary status for farmworkers called Certified Agricultural Worker, Carbajal said. Applicants who show that they’ve worked 180 days of agricultural employment over the past two years and pass a background check can achieve the temporary status, which can be renewed.

If a farmworker with Certified Agricultural Worker status desires to do so, they can earn a path to a green card, Carbajal said.

“Workers with 10 years of agricultural work prior to the date of enactment must complete four additional years of such work,” a bill fact sheet states. “Workers with less than 10 years of agricultural work prior to the date of enactment must complete eight additional years of such work.”

Achieving this legal permanent residence then gives individuals the option to pursue citizenship, just like anyone else who holds a green card, Carbajal said.

The bill also proposes reforms to the H-2A guestworker program.

“In essence, we are creating a modern day guest worker program that would allow employers to address some of the challenges that they have with the existing H-2A program,” Carbajal said, such as recruitment, the filing process, reducing costs associated with the visa process, and reforming H-2A wages.

Finally, it creates a nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment, which Carbajal said would be phased in after the legalization and H-2A reforms are implemented.

“Farmers will have a system by which they will vet people that are here,” Carbajal said. “That was part of the compromise that was reached.”

Carbajal said the bill serves as a shining example of compromise and collaboration in the House.

“This has been a great bipartisan effort, and I think provides a model for how we can work together on our continued immigration efforts that we are no doubt going to be working on,” he said.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act hits close to home for Carbajal, whose father was a farmworker in the country’s original guest worker program in the ’50s and ’60s, he said.

“In the summers, after the farmworker program was over, he immigrated our family and I worked with my father many a summer in the fields,” Carbajal said. “So I have a unique perspective of having worked in the summer with my father who was a farmworker and knowing that kind of work, and now representing a district whose No. 1 industry is agriculture.” Δ

—Malea Martin

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