It has a long way to go to become law, but the recent introduction of a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate is a big deal for U.S. agriculture. Within the long-awaited legislation are provisions for a new agricultural guestworker program. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says that’s extremely important for the future of agriculture in this country.
“We have to have workers to tend to, harvest, plant our crops. Now, without that what will happen, and what has happened to some extent when there have been worker shortages, is some operations move into another country, so we’re importing products.” Stallman said.
Stallman says the new guestworker program would provide a stable, legal workforce for U.S. agriculture.
“What we proposed was basically a two-prong program. One was a “at-will” program. That means a worker could come across the border with a legal visa and work wherever he could find work for a designated agricultural employer. So he can move from job to job as work demands dictated. Another part is the contract provisions where a worker can come across, with a proper visa, and then work under a contract much like the H2A program now only the bureaucratic requirements would be much less for the ag employers and would make it much easier for them to use the program,” Stallman said. “The Farmworkers agreed with us on this approach. One of their biggest concerns was what do you do with those farmworkers who are already here and who are improperly documented or undocumented. They need to have a status. There’s a separate program called “the blue card” to allow those workers if they have can prove they have worked in agriculture, to continue to work in agriculture for some period of time and then move forward and apply for a green card.”
Stallman says it all adds up to a much better program than what currently exists.
“One of the major problems with the H2A program was the bureaucratic nightmare, if you will, of the regulatory process to get approval for workers to come in when you needed them, when the crops were ripe and needed to be picked. Delays in the process meant that the workers wouldn’t show up when there were needed. They would show up maybe two weeks later, but that was after the crop was already ripe and you know if it’s not picked when it’s ripe, you basically lose it.”
But Stallman says this legislation is a win-win for everyone…including consumers.
“Americans, I think, have a greater comfort level with the fact that their food is produced here and subject to all the rigorous requirements we have for food safety. So consumers are better off with us having a strong agricultural industry in this country.”
To view a summary of the bill, click here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bwdwqn87Kb-9MFVhYkRSR3VvZ00/edit?usp=sharing