|For Immediate Release
June 19, 2013
Contact: Kathryn Rexrode or Jessica Collins, (202) 225-3951
Statement of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte
Markup of H.R. 1773, the Agricultural Guestworker Act”
Chairman Goodlatte: As we seek to reform our immigration system as a whole, we must take the time to look at each of the individual issues within this system to ensure that we get immigration reform right. Today the Committee will consider the second in a series of bills that represent the judicious and thorough, step-by-step approach to immigration reform that this Committee has undertaken.
As past hearings on the broken H-2A program have revealed, farmers avoid using the existing agricultural guestworker program because it burdens them with excessive regulations and exposes them to frivolous litigation. H.R. 1773, the AG Act, replaces the existing program with a new guestworker program, known as the H-2C program. The H-2C program will streamline access to a reliable workforce and protect farmers from abusive lawsuits. It will also allow dairy farms and food processors to participate in the program, which is not the case under current law.
The new H-2C program will be market-driven and adaptable. It will reduce bureaucratic red tape by adopting an attestation-based petition process and by allowing H-2C employers in good standing who agree to abide by additional terms and conditions the opportunity to be designated as “registered agricultural employers,” further expediting the hiring process. Moreover, subject to certain conditions, H-2C workers can be employed under contract or at will, making it easier for workers to move freely throughout the agricultural marketplace to meet demands.
The AG Act also replaces the unnecessarily punitive adverse effect wage rate with a more market-based wage proposal. It streamlines recruiting obligations and requires workers and employers to attempt to resolve disputes through mediation. Under the AG Act, the Department of Agriculture is in charge of administering the guestworker program—rather than the Department of Labor. This will help ensure the needs of farmers are contemplated. Furthermore, the AG Act abolishes the 50% percent rule, adopts a labor attestation process in place of a petition process, allows workers the option of working in an at-will status or under a contract, and increases the maximum length of stay for guestworkers.
Last but not least, the bill recognizes the vital role of U.S. farmworkers and the unique predicament of their employers by giving farmworkers who are currently working in the U.S. unlawfully an opportunity to work legally in agriculture. The AG Act will allow these farmworkers to join the new H-2C program. While current unlawful workers are allowed to participate in the new H-2C program, the AG Act does not provide a special pathway to citizenship or permanent residency for these farmworkers.
This bill is focused on achieving the goal of providing a stable, legal agricultural workforce that employers can call upon when sufficient American labor cannot be found. This bill also provides a legal, workable avenue for guest workers who are trying to provide a better life for their families.
Successful guest worker programs like the H-2C program created by this bill will help deter illegal immigration, protect the jobs of U.S. workers, discourage the exploitation of unauthorized workers, and stabilize industries. As such, this bill includes practical safeguards to prioritize the hiring of U.S. workers, streamline the resolution of legal disputes, and make farmer and worker obligations clear and understandable.
The AG Act maintains valuable employee benefits and critical worker protections for domestic and foreign workers alike, such as the continuation of a minimum work guarantee for certain workers, and mandatory workers compensation insurance coverage, or state law equivalent, for workplace injuries. In addition, this bill will promote the employment of U.S. workers by requiring non-seasonal agricultural employers to pay an additional fee when they hire temporary foreign workers.
There is bipartisan and bicameral consensus that our nation needs a modern and flexible agricultural guestworker program. The two hearings we have held on this topic this year have taught us that farmers and farm workers want to comply with labor and immigration laws. Congress should pass the Agricultural Guestworker Act so that they can.