By Tacy Callies and Ernie Neff
At the recent general session of Citrus Expo, AgSafe President and CEO Amy Wolfe discussed emerging issues in ag labor and food safety. One of the topics she covered was the federal Ag and Legal Workforce Act that was introduced in Congress on July 18.
The new bill is an effort to combine the existing agricultural guestworker program, H-2A, with the H-2B guestworker program. The H-2A program is for on-farm workers; the H-2B program is for workers serving “in other non-agricultural, non-field, non-farm capacities,” Wolfe says. She adds, “The bill is attempting to correct a lot of the excessive nature … that comes with the H-2A program.”
The new bill would alter the visa period from 10 months to 3 years and eliminate mandatory housing and transportation. “It would allow workers to now be at-will employees, which means they’d be able to move from farm to farm,” Wolfe says. Wages would be set at either a state’s minimum wage or 115 percent of the federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.
Wolfe notes that this is the third iteration of immigration reform introduced in this Congress. “The fact that the bill has 80 cosponsors, four of which are democrats, is a clear sign that this is probably the strongest and best chance that immigration reform, specific to addressing issues that affect the agricultural industry, has,” she says. “But the reality is, immigration is a very divisive issue … It still feels like it’s a big rock going up a very steep hill.”
Hear more from Wolfe:
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