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Sustainable Workforce Update

Thursday, January 11, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
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Sustainable Workforce Update

We have seen a lot of discussion about immigration reform and border security in the past week. The outlook for action on these issues is very much a moving target. These broader topics are particularly important to dairy farmers because they have implications on our need for a long-term sustainable workforce.

This week, President Trump made several statements to the media about immigration reform that indicated flexibility on some of the key issues surrounding the debate. He also outlined four immediate immigration reform priorities during his meeting with bipartisan lawmakers:

  • a legislative solution to DACA that protects so-called “dreamers” from deportation,
  • a limit or end to family-based (“chain”) migration,
  • an end to the diversity visa lottery and
  • increased border security, including a more comprehensive border wall.

Late Wednesday night, a new bill intended to address those priorities and many others was introduced by four Republican lawmakers. When it comes to the dairy workforce, the two most important sections of the bill are those that require mandatory e-verify for all employees and the creation of a new H2-C visa program for agricultural workers. A summary of this legislation, which is called the Securing America’s Future Act, can be found here. Complete bill language is available here (the section detailing the new H-2C program begins on page 22).

The language for the H2-C program was drawn from the amended version of the Agricultural Guestworker (AG) Act, which narrowly passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in late October. Many of you are familiar with the provisions of this legislation because of past alerts regarding it. The new visa would be good for an initial stay of 36 months and could be renewed for 18-month intervals after that. Visa recipients would have to comply with mandatory touch-back requirements. This means workers would be required to spend time outside of the county to be eligible for renewal. Undocumented workers currently here would also have to leave the country before they could apply for the new visa. This and other requirements have made many within agriculture unsure about whether the proposed program is the workable solution we need.

What Next?

  • There is no time table for this bill to come to a vote in the House and no indication that it ever will.
  • Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, authored the AG Act and coauthored this new legislation, said he plans to negotiate from this language to get more Republican support in the House.
  • There is no companion bill in the Senate. Also, the Senate bill would need 60 votes for passage, which requires some Democratic support. That seems unlikely if the bill remains in its current form and becomes even less likely if the bill is made stricter to garner more Republican votes in the House. 
  • Democrats continue to push for a “clean” DACA fix (i.e. one without other immigration or border security provisions) in the spending bill that must be passed by Jan. 19 to avoid a government shutdown.
  • President Trump has said he will not sign a deal that does not include funding for a border wall, which Democrats oppose. The chance for compromise during this short time is decreasing.

Ultimately, it hard to predict what the next couple of weeks might hold for this ongoing debate. It is important that farmers continue to have conversations with their members of Congress about why a solution to our labor challenges must be a part of any multi-faceted immigration/border security package. If specific wage, insurance, touchback or eligibility requirements for the proposed H2-C program concern you, and there are good reasons why they might, share those concerns as well.

Edge will continue to work with other dairy organizations and the entire Ag Workforce Coalition to see if a functional ag visa program can be part of a broader immigration/border security package. Given the politics and 60-vote requirement, our focus is on the Senate. That is the most likely place for a passable compromise to emerge.

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