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“Modernized” Ag Guestworker Legislation Stalled – Again

The U.S. ag industry utilizes around 2 million guestworkers every year, but the current guestworker visa program provides less than 4 percent of actual workers needed.(USDA/public domain)

For months, the agricultural industry has been hopeful for new guestworker legislation, but disagreements about larger immigration reform keep getting in the way.

It looks like this month is no different.

In June, Republicans proposed an immigration bill that contained a new, year-round H-2C visa – also known as AG Act – that would allow immigrants to work for up to three years in U.S. agriculture. It would also allow them to change jobs if they wish.

A later version of that bill omitted the year-round H-2C visa for farmworkers program altogether, coupled with a promised from House Republican leaders that ag guestworker legislation would be addressed this month.

But a new report from Roll Call suggests that promise will be delayed once again.

“I haven’t heard much discussion of it, so I’m not optimistic we’re going to see it,” New York Rep. Chris Collins said Thursday.

U.S. farmers rely on about 2 million ag guestworkers each year,and some estimate around half of them. are undocumented.

Currently, ag guestworkers can apply for an H-2A visa to work in the US, though their stay is for only one season and doesn’t allow them to change jobs if they need.

Many farmers think the H-2A program is lacking as well. According to the Farm Bureau, 72 percent of farmers and growers reported that workers arrive, on average, 22 days after the “date of need.” The H-2A program also provides less than 4 percent of the hired workers needed in agriculture, resulting in as much as $3.3 billion in missed GDP growth in 2012.

Taylor Killough

Taylor Killough has degrees anthropology and journalism. She has worked with the oral history project StoryCorps. A nomad at heart, she recently returned to Louisville, Kentucky, where's she's excited to have her own kitchen and garden again.

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