John Walt Boatright, national affairs coordinator for Florida Farm Bureau, recently gave a presentation at the Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference on the immigration debate happening in Washington, D.C. “Florida Farm Bureau has been monitoring the current immigration debate primarily because of the inclusion of Chairman Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Act, also known as the AG Act,” Boatright said.
The AG Act was introduced in October 2017 with the intention of creating a more workable guest worker program for agriculture, changing it from the H-2A program to the H-2C program. Boatright said there are several positive provisions to the AG Act. “The positives include opening it up to year-round workers. That’s very helpful for our dairy and nursery owners. Also, it creates a better competitive wage rate and eliminates the transportation and housing provisions,” he explained.
However, there are also several concerns surrounding the AG Act. Boatright said there are many aspects of the bill that need more clarity, such as a touchback provision. This provision would require workers to touch back to their country of origin prior to coming back to work under the new H-2C program.
Boatright warned about some possible delay in the government with the bill moving forward. “Even if this bill passed through the House, the outcome in the Senate is largely unclear because the Senate has not been including this in their conversations,” he said. The Senate has been focusing much of its attention on a bill that is focused on President Trump’s four pillars of immigration, which include Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and border security.
Boatright said Florida Farm Bureau is working to help improve this bill to make it workable for the entire agriculture industry. He added that Farm Bureau is aware that E-Verify is a big component to the passage of the AG Act, so Farm Bureau is keeping a close eye on that as well. However, Boatright still thinks the AG Act will turn out to be a good opportunity. “H-2A and immigration reform have been elusive for many years for Florida agriculture and this, right now, is the best opportunity to get it done,” he concluded.
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