Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has introduced a bill to overhaul the H-2A guest worker program. The bill would mandate all employers nationwide to use a federal electronic system, known as E-Verify, to confirm that new hires are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Called the American Specialty Agriculture Act, Smith’s proposed legislation would require only that employers attest that they had offered jobs to American workers, removing time-consuming procedural hurdles for farmers. It would allow binding arbitration in guest worker contracts to reduce “frivolous litigation.”
However, many major farm organizations, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, say Smith’s program fails to meet their needs. “There is a very serious concern among farm worker advocates that the bill will completely gut worker protection measures in the name of efficiency,” notes immigration lawyer Erich Straub.
In addition, when the three-year phase-in is coupled with an H-2A visa, producers will eventually lose the well-trained workforce that they presently employ, Straub says. Because the vast majority of those workers have been in the U.S. unlawfully for more than a year, they will not be eligible for re-entry under the H-2A visa for a minimum of 10 years, and in many cases permanently, Straub notes. Finally, the H-2A visa is only for seasonal workers.
—AgWeb Editors also contributed to this story.