U.S. lawmakers have a big agenda and many things they hope to accomplish before the end of 2017: tax reform, farm bill and disaster relief.
Another issue coming to the forefront is immigration, and there’s a fresh push for bipartisan immigration reform.
During a speech at the United Fresh Produce conference in Washington D.C., Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Az.) spoke about the issue and says hard working migrants need to be accounted for in immigration policy, including reforms to the H-2A guest worker program.
According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor, American farmers are turning more to the program to help fill their needs. So far in 2017, the department has issued more than 160,000 visas, an increase of 20 percent from 2016.
Georgia leads all other states with nearly 19,000 visas, while California has issued 12,000 visas.
Farmers and ag businesses complain the current H-2A program is cumbersome, slow, and doesn’t work in many livestock scenarios where labor is needed year round.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is planning to introduce the Agricultural Guestworker Act next week, which would replace the current H-2A program.
During the United Fresh conference, Goodlatte says the Act reduces red tape, includes greater access to guest workers without a pathway to citizenship, offers higher wages, has no requirement for worker housing and transportation, and allows currently illegal farmworkers to participate in the program.
Goodlatte is hoping to introduce the H-2C program in the committee and start a markup shortly after. The program would be run out of the USDA.