New Bill Opens Way for Migrant Workers

US - A new bill introduced into Congress last week could ease the way for meat and food processing plants and farms to employ immigrant labour.
calendar icon 30 April 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte introduced the Agricultural Guestworker “AG” Act (H.R. 1773) a bill to provide American farmers with a workable temporary agricultural guestworker programme that will help provide access to a reliable workforce.

Congressman Goodlatte said: “Today’s introduction of the AG Act is one piece that brings us closer to solving the immigration puzzle.

“While it is important that we reform our immigration system as a whole, we must look at each of the individual issues within the larger system to ensure that we get immigration reform right.

“If we fail to examine each issue methodically, we risk making the same mistakes of the past that have created the problems we face today.

“One component that needs fixing is our temporary agricultural guestworker program, which American farmers avoid using altogether since it exposes them to frivolous litigation and burdens them with excessive regulations.

“The new guestworker program created under the AG Act remedies this problem by removing red tape, streamlining access to a reliable workforce, and protecting farmers from abusive lawsuits. It also allows more participation in the guestworker program by opening it up to dairies and food processors, both of which often need access to foreign labor.

“In addition, the AG Act is good for those seeking a better life for their families by providing opportunities to earn a living while temporarily working in agricultural jobs U.S. citizens are not willing to do.

The Food Manufacturers Immigration Council Coalition praised the announcement, saying that the bill forms first steps of the immigration policy reform.

“The introduction of this legislation, and the bill introduced in the Senate, are important first steps in the immigration reform process, which will be a dynamic debate featuring many proposals to reform our flawed immigration process,” the coalition said. “We commend Chairman Goodlatte, and we look forward to working on a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.”

A occupational visa system, if properly utilised, may be biggest tool in stopping illegal immigrants, the coalition added. 

The coalition said that The ‘Agricultural Guestworker Act’ and the creation of the H-2C program would serve the diverse interests of the agriculture and food manufacturing industries and will boost the modern agriculture labour market.

• The new temporary agricultural guestworker programme removes barriers and excessive paperwork farmers face in hiring foreign workers. If a grower is designated as a registered agricultural employer by USDA and agrees to the terms and obligations of participating in the programme, then they can easily hire guestworkers already admitted to the US without having to file yet another petition for the individual worker. The new guestworker programme’s petition process is also attestation based, meaning that the grower simply has to promise to meet the program’s standards rather than having to prove in advance that they will.

• In order to discourage frivolous and abusive litigation against growers, growers may require as a condition of employment that guestworkers be subject to binding arbitration and mediation of any grievances in relation to the employment relationship. This bill also eliminates special treatment for the Legal Services Corporation.

• The bill eliminates the artificial government-imposed wage rate that is part of the current temporary agricultural guestworker program and replaces it with the prevailing wage rate or the state minimum wage—whichever is greater. And while the cap for the new programme is set at 500,000, the Secretary of Agriculture has the authority to raise or lower the cap based on the demands and needs of the market.

• The new guestworker programme will allow American growers to better compete in the global economy by removing the exorbitant costs associated with abusive litigation, excessive regulation, and artificially high, government-imposed wage rates.

• The bill designates the Department of Agriculture to administer the new guestworker programme rather than the Department of Labor. USDA is better equipped to help farmers and better understands their needs.

• Under the new programme, guestworkers are not eligible for Obamacare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, or other welfare programmes.

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