HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger—a member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee—and a bipartisan group of her House colleagues introduced legislation to improve predictability for Central Virginia agriculture employers and to reform the 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.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act 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. The Spanberger-supported bill would also reduce housing costs for employers as they look to increase the availability of farmworker housing.
“To keep our Central Virginia farms and greenhouses strong, we need to reform the existing H-2A program. Unfortunately, the current program does not provide certainty to returning workers and their families, and I’ve heard firsthand from our district’s producers about the extensive red tape they face as they look to fill job openings,” said Spanberger. “Our bill—introduced by Republicans and Democrats—would provide much-needed changes to our immigration system and the H-2A program. By stabilizing the existing workforce, creating a new year-round guest worker program, charting a legal path to citizenship for farm laborers, and simplifying the process for agribusinesses, this bipartisan bill would address a piece of the immigration challenges facing our country and many of the employment difficulties facing the Seventh District’s rural communities.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has garnered the support of nearly 250 U.S. agriculture groups, trade associations, and labor organizations—as well as Virginia dairy producers, greenhouses, and agribusinesses.
“We at Southern States echo the statement from Chuck Conner and the National Council of Cooperatives – we applaud the bipartisan approach to addressing the labor crisis faced by American agriculture,” said Steve Patterson, Senior Vice President, Southern States Cooperative. “We also appreciate Representative Spanberger for co-sponsoring the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, as Virginia farmers are under severe pressure for labor and to simply stay afloat during this tough agricultural economy.”
“On behalf of our producer members, we thank Congresswoman Spanberger for her support of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Farmers continue to struggle to find workers to till the soil, plant and harvest the crops, and tend their livestock due to the cumbersome, complicated, and expensive seasonal H-2A program and the fact that producers with jobs that are done on a year-round basis are prohibited from using the program entirely,” said Jay Bryant, CEO, Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association. “This bill would provide needed certainty for the nation’s food producers by offering legal status to current workers and protection for their immediate family, expanding the temporary worker H-2A program to allow employment of temporary workers in year-round jobs, and requiring employers benefiting from the bill to use the federal E-Verify program to confirm the work authorization of new hires. This legislation is long overdue and will be a major step forward in easing the ever-worsening farm labor crisis. Again, we thank Congresswoman Spanberger for supporting this legislation that is so critical to our industry, our member families, and their workers.”
“The current H-2A system is burdensome and outdated—and it doesn’t fully meet the needs of horticulture businesses like ours as we try to maintain and support a skilled workforce. This legislation’s wage reforms and streamlined filing processes are smart ideas that improve the long-term sustainability of our business, especially as we look to grow. Additionally, the bill’s inclusion of a year-round visa provision is critical for our operation,” said Anthony Van Hoven, President, Battlefield Farms, Orange County, Virginia. “We here at Battlefield Farms thank Congresswoman Spanberger for introducing this legislation and for working to reform and simplify the H-2A visa program, which would help lower our costs and reduce the time we spend dealing with administrative headaches—time we could otherwise be spending in the greenhouses.”
“Every year, ahead of our multiple busy seasons, local growers look to hire and retain new workers to keep our operations afloat. Unfortunately, the current H-2A system is out-of-step with our employment needs, and it burdens us with significant processing time—which strains our ability to plan ahead and make sure we’re staffed for our busy seasons,” said Dan Gregg, Owner, Grelen Nurseries & the Market at Grelen, Orange County, Virginia. “This bill would give us the power to hire workers in a more timely and staggered fashion, which better reflects the business cycles of horticulture. That’s why we applaud Congresswoman Spanberger’s leadership in advancing this bipartisan solution, and we thank her for working with Republicans and Democrats in the House to fix some of the hiring challenges businesses like ours routinely face.”
“We thank Representative Abigail Spanberger for cosponsoring the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Greenhouse and nursery crops and sod are the number-one agricultural crop in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional district, with an annual farmgate sales value of about $100 million. The district ranks as the number-one producer of these plant crops in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chronic labor shortages are the single-biggest challenge facing our producers in and beyond the district,” said Craig Regelbrugge, Senior Vice President, AmericanHort. “H.R.4916 represents a bipartisan, common-sense step forward toward solutions. The bill improves the H-2A visa program, which provides access to temporary workers when seasonal jobs go unfilled. And, it provides for needed reforms to address the status of hard-working men and women contributing to the Seventh District’s economy. Economists estimate that each and every farm worker job sustains two to three jobs in the surrounding economy, both on and off the farm. This means jobs for Virginians. We applaud Representative Spanberger for her common-sense leadership and help advancing this landmark legislation.”
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 24 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 farmers 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 program for employers to meet year-round labor needs.
- Establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment 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.