Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week gave a boost to a bill that would help address the farm labor shortage.
The secretary called for separate immigration legislation for agriculture. “The people who come to America to work on farms and ranches are not taking jobs from Americans. They are not the ones putting a burden on the criminal justice system or welfare system,” he told attendees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2018 Agricultural Outlook Forum.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., last year introduced the “Agricultural Guestworker Act” (AG Act), which his committee approved late in the year. The bill would create a new visa program – H-2C – that allows non-seasonal agricultural workers to remain in the United States for up to three years while deferring a portion of their pay as incentive for periodic “touchbacks” to their country.
The legislation would replace the current H-2A temporary, seasonal agricultural worker program, and it would let agricultural employers hire up to 410,000 foreign workers for on-farm jobs and 40,000 for meatpacking plants. It also would put the H-2C program under USDA rather than the Department of Labor.
The Goodlatte measure also is part of a comprehensive – and contentious – immigration reform bill that’s moving nowhere fast in the hallowed halls of Congress.
The agriculture industry has cautioned that a shortage of labor could lead to facilities shutting down, causing severe financial harm for farmers and ranchers and to rural communities.