House Begins Considering Bill to Stabilize Immigrant Agricultural Workforce

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Rules considered H.R. 1603, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide an easier route for undocumented farmworkers to obtain legal status, give more stability to the agriculture sector and make changes to the H-2A temporary worker visa program.

“All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived. … The bill, as amended, shall be considered as read. All points of order against provisions in the bill, as amended, are waived.” the Rules Committee Resolution reported. The bill has broad support from farm groups and has Republican and Democratic sponsors. However, the committee did reject an amendment that would remove limits on year-round H-2A visas. 

Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said in a press release when they introduced the bill earlier this month that it “creates a workforce solution for America’s agriculture industry by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.” 

A similar bill passed in the House of Representatives during the 116th Congress in December 2019. The details of the bill were previously negotiated during an eight-month period with farmers, farmworker advocates, and other organizations. Through the bill, agricultural workers can receive legal status through continued employment, the H-2A program would provide greater flexibility for employers, and the program would be more accessible to industries who need labor year-round instead of just during the typical growing season. 

“American agriculture is desperately in need of a legal, reliable workforce. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a solution – negotiated in good faith by agriculture groups, labor representatives, and Members on both sides of the aisle – that will do just that,” Rep. Dan Newhouse said in the release. “As one of only a few farmers in Congress, I understand the invaluable contributions our producers and farmworkers make to our nation’s unparalleled agriculture industry. Bringing our agriculture labor program into the 21st century is absolutely critical as we work to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure a stable food supply chain in the United States. We must act now to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers across the country.”