WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed bipartisan legislation originally cosponsored by U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger to improve predictability for Central Virginia agriculture employers and to reform the U.S. immigration system for farmworkers.
To keep their operations open and grow their businesses, farms, greenhouses, and agribusinesses in Central Virginia need steady access to qualified and legal labor. However, the existing H-2A guest-worker program does not meet the employment requirements of local businesses and has long needed meaningful reforms. In Virginia’s Seventh District, the current seasonal program doesn’t fit local agriculture’s need for year-round workers—including in the dairy and horticulture sectors.
Last month, Spanberger helped introduce the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would address some of the key challenges facing farms and agricultural workers in Central Virginia. The bill would modernize and streamline the H-2A process for growers to hire farmworkers in response to their labor needs. Additionally, the legislation would create a merit-based visa program for agricultural workers to earn legal status through continued employment.
“Last night’s passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act marks an important success in our bipartisan efforts to reform our immigration system and strengthen our country’s rural economies. In Central Virginia, our crop and livestock producers need to be able to ward off the farm labor crisis and retain their workforce, and our greenhouses and dairies—which have unique labor requirements—need modernized policies,” said Spanberger. “In face-to-face conversations with our producers, I’ve repeatedly heard that the current H-2A program is overly-burdensome and fails to address the year-round labor requirements of the Seventh District. By cutting down on red tape, creating a new year-round guest worker program, and stabilizing the existing workforce, this legislation reflects the needs of farmers in Central Virginia and across the country. As an original cosponsor of this bill, I’d like to thank my colleagues for advancing this commonsense, bipartisan legislation—and I encourage the U.S. Senate to take up this bill for a vote as soon as possible.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has garnered the support of more than 300 U.S. agriculture groups, trade associations, and labor organizations—as well as Virginia dairy producers, greenhouses, and agribusinesses.
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide much-needed certainty for our member producers and their families, and we thank Congresswoman Spanberger for her leadership in advancing this bill on behalf of Virginia’s dairy farmers,” said Jay Bryant, CEO, Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association. “Right now, many farmers in our industry struggle to find the workers they need to tend to their livestock, and the current seasonal H-2A program only exacerbates this challenge. This bill would make smart changes to the H-2A program, including allowing the employment of temporary workers in year-round jobs and implementing the use of E-Verify to confirm the work authorization of new hires. Yesterday’s passage is a long overdue step in fixing the status quo, protecting current workers, and easing burdensome regulations for employers—and we thank Congresswoman Spanberger for clearly recognizing and addressing the challenges of her district’s dairy producers.”
“Our greenhouse and nursery growers in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and beyond are thrilled to see the Farm Workforce Modernization Act pass the House. Labor shortages are the number one challenge faced by our small and family farms and businesses,” said Craig Regelbrugge, Senior Vice President, AmericanHort. “We thank Rep. Spanberger and all her colleagues on both sides of the aisle who committed to tackling this tough problem, and voted for this bill. We urge the Senate to pick up where the House left off, and advance farm workforce legislation through that chamber.”
This week, Regelbrugge and former Virginia State Senator John C. Watkins (R-SD10) authored an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in support of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
The bipartisan bill is led by U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04), Collin Peterson (D-MN-07), Mike Simpson (R-ID-02), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25). The legislation—which was negotiated over several months with input from agriculture, businesses, and labor organizations—was introduced with the strong support of 26 Democratic and 23 Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would expand and streamline the H-2A foreign guest-worker program, so producers can easily hire and retain skilled workers. Specifically, the bill would:
- Establish a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment.
- Reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers.
- Create a new, capped prorgam for employers to meet year-round labor needs.
- Establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural hiring with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.
Click here to read a one-pager about the bill, and click here to read the full bill text.