U.S. House Passes Spanberger-Backed Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Predictability for Central Virginia Ag Economy, Reform Immigration System for Farmworkers

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act Would Establish a Year-Round H-2A Visa Program, Reduce Administrative Headaches for Central Virginia Farms & Greenhouses, and Help Close the Gap Between Labor Demand & Availability

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives today voted to pass bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger to improve predictability for Central Virginia agriculture employers and to reform the immigration system for farmworkers.

Central Virginia 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 hosted a roundtable with Central Virginia agribusiness owners and farm groups to discuss these issues and how Congress can find common ground as it seeks to modernize the U.S. immigration system, protect the rural economy, and cut red tape for crop and livestock producers.

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 an earned visa program for agricultural workers to gain legal status through continued employment. The bipartisan bill would also reduce housing costs for employers as they look to increase the availability of farmworker housing.

“In our one-on-one and direct conversations with me, Central Virginia farms, agribusinesses, and greenhouses have been clear that the existing H-2A program is in fundamental need of reforms. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act provides much-needed changes to our immigration system, including the H-2A program,” said Spanberger. “In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, we need to focus on passing legislation that contributes to long-term economic security for the businesses that make our communities strong — and this legislation tackles many of the employment difficulties facing our district’s rural communities. By stabilizing the existing workforce, creating a year-round guest worker program, and simplifying the hiring progress for agribusinesses, this bill marks a step towards addressing a piece of the immigration and jobs challenges we face.”

“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 cosponsoring the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, as Virginia farmers remain under severe pressure for labor and to simply stay afloat from this seven year downturn in the agricultural economy.”

“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.”

“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.”

 

“We are so grateful to Representative Abigail Spanberger for her steadfast support of 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 high-value 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.1603 represents a bipartisan, common-sense step forward toward solutions. The bill stabilizes the essential farm workforce and improves the H-2A visa program, which provides access to temporary workers when seasonal jobs go unfilled. 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 pragmatic, common-sense leadership and help advancing this landmark legislation.” 

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was first negotiated over eight months in 2019 with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations, and farmworker advocates — and Spanberger helped introduce the legislation in the last Congress. In December 2019, Spanberger first voted to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which became the first agriculture labor reform legislation to pass in the House of Representatives since 1986.

Since its passage in the House in December 2019, a bipartisan coalition of Members — including Spanberger — has been working to strengthen support for the legislation in the new Congress.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is led by U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04). Click here for a two-page summary of the bill.

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