A bipartisan amendment adding reforms to the H-2A guest-worker program to the 2019 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill was approved by the House Committee on Appropriations Wednesday.
The amendment, offered by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, broadens the H-2A program to apply to all agricultural sectors instead of focusing on sectors considered seasonal. This could open the temporary worker program to year-round agricultural industries, like dairy or mushroom farming, which are currently exempt from the program.
“This amendment is simple — it provides the agriculture industry with the access to workers it needs by making clear that all agriculture may utilize H-2A,” Cuellar said in a statementv after the amendment was adopted.
Newhouse said on the House floor that farmers using the current program are “plagued by bureaucratic red tap,” and that delays in the application process prevents farmers from getting the workers needed to work their fields, resulting in millions of dollars in lost productivity.
“Farmers facing a shortage of agriculture labor have not been well-served by the current H-2A program,” Newhouse said in a statement Tuesday. “Modern agriculture demands modernization of the bureaucratic H-2A program, and as farming methods have become less seasonal or able to produce multiple harvests, the H-2A program must be updated to meet the needs of the agriculture industry.”
The amendment would maintain the requirement that farmers show they are advertising open positions and are trying to hire domestic workers first, and it would not extend the time a worker employed through the H-2A program can stay in the U.S.
Guest workers under the H-2A classification can stay in the U.S. for a maximum of three years if their application is renewed on a per-year basis. A person who has held H-2A non-immigrant status for a total of three years must depart and remain outside the United States for an uninterrupted period of three months.