AG Act hearing set for Oct. 24; contact your congressional representative
Friday, October 20, 2017
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
We reached out to you earlier this month when U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte introduced the Agricultural Guestworker (AG) Act. This legislation would create a new visa program that would allow for year-round farm employment and would be available to current workers regardless of their current immigration status.
DBMMC has endorsed this legislation, even though we recognize its weaknesses. It represents the best chance we have had in years to secure a workable long-term solution to the labor challenges faced by our farmers. There will be many opportunities to improve upon the AG Act's current language.
This bill is scheduled for a "markup" in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 24. This hearing, which is when the committee will debate and potentially amend the bill, is an important early step in advancing this legislation. If the bill cannot get a majority vote in committee, it will not move forward.
If you are able, please contact your federal representatives and members of the Judiciary Committee before the hearing this Tuesday. Tell them how important a sustainable workforce is to your farm and ask them to support the AG Act.
Click here for congressional office contact information. Click here for a sample message to use when contacting lawmakers.
For reference, here are the key components of the AG Act:
- The new H-2C visa program would expand the definition of "agricultural labor" to year-round ag work, including on dairy farms.
- The H-2C visa would allow for an initial 36-month stay, then subsequent continuous periods of authorized status of 18 months.
- During the stay, an employee would have to leave for at least 45 days. Employees could accumulate the required time over the length of the visa by making multiple short trips.
- There would be a minimum wage requirement. Employers would not be required to pay transportation or housing expenses of H-2C workers.
- Undocumented workers would have to leave the country before enrolling. The employee would have to be gone for an unspecified number of days within six months of becoming an H-2C visa holder, but wouldn't necessarily have to return home, just leave the U.S. This time would not count toward the 45-day touchback requirement. We understand the intent to mean that a worker would have to leave for a very short period of time (i.e. a few days), which would prevent disruption for farmers by not requiring all existing workers to leave at the same time.
- To ensure compliance, employers would have to withhold 10 percent of wages and transfer them to a trust fund. Employees would pick up their withholdings in their home countries.
- The program does not provide a legal pathway for family members of H-2C visa holders, and employees would not be allowed to bring family members with them unless those family members were H-2C employees also.
- E-verify would apply to all employees, not just new H-2C visa holders. Enforcement would be delayed for agriculture for 18 months from the time the law was enacted. A separate mandatory E-verify bill exists.
Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns about this legislation. I can be reached either by responding to this email or by calling (608) 358-3941.
Director of government affairs