One economic school of thought says expansion, imperative to growth, usually translates to more jobs.

For many farm operations, that new labor source may come from outside the U.S.

Peter Tubbs reports on congressional activity this week, addressing agriculture’s chronic worker shortage.

A bill that would simplify the employment of foreign workers in year-round agricultural jobs passed the House Judiciary Committee this week by a single vote.

H.R 4092, titled the “Agricultural Guestworker Act”, or “Ag Act”, would ease the requirements of employers currently using the H-2A program to fill agricultural jobs.

The Ag Act, if it were to become law, would create a new visa called H-2C. The program would be administered by the USDA rather than the Department of Labor, and would provide 500,000 visas for year-round labor, triple the number of H-2A visas. Current requirements that employers provide housing, transportation and meals, would be voluntary under the new plan.

H-2C workers would have to ‘touch-back’ to their country of origin for a total of 45 days every 12 months to remain eligible for the plan. The visa would remain in effect up to three years. Workers would also have to purchase their own health insurance before being granted an H-2C visa. There is no path to citizenship through the visa, and workers would not be allowed to bring family members with them into the country unless they also hold H-2C visas.

Employers would see wage savings with H-2C workers. A wage floor of 115 percent of the federal minimum wage would be in effect, which could save employers as much as 5 dollars per hour per worker in some areas.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway signaled support for the bill:

“It’s time for an ag worker program that both respects our nation’s immigration laws and keeps American agriculture competitive,”

Industry groups such as the American Farm Bureau are in support of the new visa category. 

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