The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Brandon Cline
Managing Editor 

Newhouse co-sponsors bipartisan farm and immigration bill


Last updated 12/5/2019 at 10:50am

A bipartisan bill aimed toward addressing immigration and farm issues that is co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Newhouse passed the House Judiciary Committee last week, and now moves on to consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, introduced with the support of 26 Democrats and 23 Republicans, has been negotiated throughout much of the past year between legislators, agricultural stakeholders and labor organizations. The bill would—among other things—establish a program in Title I of the bill for agricultural workers in the country, as well as their spouses and minor children, to earn legal status through continued employment in the ag industry.

“This is an excellent step forward for a bipartisan bill that will be a building block to improve and modernize America’s agriculture industry,” said Rep. Newhouse. “As the Farm Workforce Modernization Act continues to move through the legislative process, I am grateful for my colleagues, the farmers and farmworkers, and the organizations and stakeholders who worked to make this legislation a reality. I am hopeful the legislation will now move quickly to the House floor, and I look forward to the continued opportunity to perfect the bill in the Senate.”

To gain initial eligibility, applicants must show at least 180 days of ag employment over the last two years. Qualified applicants would be provided 5-year renewable agriculture visas, which can be renewed by working at least 100 days in the ag industry each year. For those who have ag experience but don’t meet the criteria for eligibility, the option of applying for H-2A visas is available.

As part of the Title I program, individuals also have the opportunity to earn Legal Permanent Resident status. To apply for LPR status, a $1,000 fine must be paid and individuals must meet one of the following criteria:

-If an individual worked in ag in the U.S. for at least 10 years before enactment, they must work an additional four years in ag after enactment before they can apply;

-If an individual worked in agriculture in the U.S. for less than 10 years, they must work an additional 8 years in agriculture before being eligible to apply for LPR status.

Title II of the bill focuses on reforming the H-2A program, with the reforms aimed at providing more flexibility for employers while also ensuring protections for workers. The bill would:

-Streamline the filing process and work to reduce processing time from 75 to 60 days;

-Allow employers to file one petition reflecting staggered labor needs;

-Allow employers to list a job posting on an electronic registry instead of filing newspaper print ads;

-Provide wage reform by disaggregating wages for various ag occupations (such as crop workers, livestock workers, machine operators, graders, etc.) to ensure that wage requirements better reflect real-world wages paid to specific types of workers, and also by limiting wage fluctuations and mid-contract wage increases;

-Reduce housing costs by seeking to preserve existing housing, incentivize new housing and lowering housing costs;

-Seek to reduce the need for litigation;

-Fill year-round labor needs by dedicating an additional 40,000 green cards per year for ag workers and creating a new, capped program for employers that would provide temporary three-year visas.

Title III of the bill would establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all ag employment, in an effort to ensure a legal workforce for the agriculture sector. The system would only affect the ag sector, with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.


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