It’s time to fully acknowledge the contributions made to our economy and rural communities by the immigrant farm employees who care for crops and livestock throughout the United States.
It’s time to end the charade that these hardworking people are somehow stealing jobs from American citizens.
It’s time for Congress to pass H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
Here’s what the bill would do:
The FWMA would allow immigrant agricultural employees in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment. The program would include an employee’s spouse and minor children.
Qualified applicants would earn five-year, renewable visas. If they want to apply for permanent legal residency, they would pay a $1,000 fine and commit to working an additional four to eight years in agriculture.
Let me be clear, this is not amnesty. It’s a fair solution for the existing agricultural workforce and their immediate families.
The people who work on farms and ranches are valued members of rural communities, and their contributions to our communities and our food system should be recognized by allowing them a chance to gain legal status.
At the same time, the FWMA would modernize and streamline the existing H-2A agricultural visa program, through which foreign nationals enter the U.S. temporarily to work on farms and ranches. The changes would provide more flexibility both for agricultural employers and foreign employees.
Under a newly created pilot program, the bill would allow H-2A guestworkers to move from one employer to another, the way other members of the current workforce do now. In addition, and for the first time ever, it would include a program allowing guestworkers to work at dairies, nurseries and other year-round agricultural sites.
In addition, the FWMA would phase in use of the E-Verify employment-eligibility program for all agricultural employers, while assuring due process for their employees.
This is a measured approach to solve a chronic problem affecting rural communities across the country: There aren’t enough people to fill many of the jobs farmers and ranchers have to offer. Despite raising wages, improving benefits and other inducements, American citizens generally don’t apply for on-farm jobs. They just don’t.
When Farm Bureau surveyed California farmers and ranchers earlier this year, more than half reported they hadn’t been able to hire all the employees they needed at some point during the previous five years. Most of the farmers responding to the voluntary survey said they had raised wages. More than half said they had started using mechanization—but mechanization isn’t yet available for many specialty crops and may not be for years to come.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would address chronic employee shortages in two ways: by securing the existing workforce and improving the program for interested individuals from other countries to enter the country legally for farm work. To learn more about the bill, see farmbureau.cfbf.com/farm-
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote soon on the FWMA. It has attracted bipartisan support. It offers realistic solutions to address long-term problems affecting rural communities across California and the nation.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson grows olives and citrus and makes olive oil in Oroville.