Ag Act Explained
By Kindra Gordon
Proposed legislation to revamp the guestworker program for immigrant agricultural workers is again being discussed in Congress. Speaking on behalf of Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Stephanie Gadbois, senior counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, explained the proposed Agricultural Guestworker Act (AG Act), to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Agriculture & Food Policy Committee Feb. 2 in Phoenix, Ariz. during the 2018 Cattle Industry Convention.
According to Gadbois, the proposed AG Act (dubbed the “H-2C” program), which would replace the current H-2A program applied to immigrant agricultural workers seeking temporary or seasonal work in the United States, would be administered by the USDA instead of the Secretary of Labor.
“We believe a guestworker program should help farmers, not hinder them,” she noted, but also emphasized that the proposed H-2C program is not a pathway to citizenship for guestworkers, Gadbois said.
Providing an overview of the AG Act, Gadbois explained 450,000 visas would be available each year for H-2C workers; 40,000 of those would be exclusive for meat- and poultry-processing workers. Returning H-2A workers and previously unauthorized farmworkers who participate legally in the new program will not count toward the annual visa limit. Additionally, the program includes an automatic escalator of up to 10% annually if the cap is reached.
The new law would give employers the ability to invest in training workers for specialized or hard-to-fill jobs by allowing workers an initial stay of 36 months. Subsequent visas for year-round agricultural jobs and all other H-2C visas would afford a work period of 18 months. The AG Act also includes touchback requirements, where H-2C workers must leave the United States for 45 days, or a time period equal to 1/12th of their stay, whichever is less.
The H-2C program would not require employers to provide housing or transportation, and permits contractual or at-will employment agreements.
(Learn more at https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Ag-Act.pdf.)
With Congressman Goodlatte announcing his retirement at the end of 2018, Gadbois emphasized, “Time is of the essence. We need more co-sponsors and yes votes this month.” She encouraged producers to reach out to their members of Congress and encourage their support.
Gadbois acknowledged that several ag groups are trying to prevent this proposal from coming to the floor. To this she noted, “The text of the AG Act is not written in stone. We are willing to collaborate to improve this bill. Together we can improve the chances of getting the AG Act across the finish line … If it doesn’t happen this year, it may not happen for many Congresses to come.”
Editor’s Note: Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer and cattlewoman from Whitewood, S.D. This article was written as part of Angus Media’s coverage of the 2018 Cattle Industry Convention and is copyrighted. See additional coverage distributed through Angus Media channels including the Angus Journal, Angus Beef Bulletin, Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA, The Angus Report and online at www.angus.org.