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Agricultural Guestworker Act (HR 4092)
July 9, 2018
Rep Bob Goodlatte's Agricultural Guestworker Act (HR 4092), approved by the House Judiciary Committee in October 2017, aims to give farmers easier access to guest workers. Goodlatte revised HR 4092 in 2018, and won the endorsement of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Goodlatte, who was an immigration lawyer in Roanoke, Virginia before being elected to Congress in 1992, is retiring in 2018.
HR 4092 was included in the Secure America's Future Act (HR 4760), which was rejected by the House on a 193-231 vote June 21, 2018. The House will vote on an agricultural guest worker bill in July 2018.
HR 4092 would allow up to 450,000 guest workers to be admitted each year, including 40,000 for meatpacking. The H-2C program would replace the H-2A program, and HR 4092 would allow the number of H-2C visas to rise by 10 percent in the next year if all visas were requested in the previous year.
Each H-2C visa would be valid for up to 24 months, after which H-2C workers would have to leave the US for at least 45 days. There could be 900,000 H-2C workers in the US during the program's second year, and ever more thereafter, since previously unauthorized workers who obtain H-2C visas do not count against the cap, nor do H-2A and H-2B workers returning to their previous employers.
The cap can rise by 10 percent each year if all visas were requested the previous year, which means that the cap could rise from 450,000 plus 45,000 to 495,000 in year two. The next year, if all 495,000 visas were requested, the new cap would be 495,000 plus 49,500 or 544,500.
Growers would have 24 months after enactment to enroll in E-Verify to remain eligible to hire H-2C workers. Currently unauthorized farm workers could be pre-approved to receive H-2C visas before they left the US to their countries of origin and returned legally. They must satisfy this touchback requirement to work legally in the US, and would need a US job offer to obtain an H-2C visa.
Employers could offer year-round jobs in dairies or in farm-related food processing and meatpacking to H-2C workers. Employers would attest to their need for guest workers by posting job vacancies with state workforce agencies, and hire qualified US workers who apply until H-2C guest workers begin working in the US.
Employers would not have to provide H-2C guest workers with free transportation to the US or housing while employed in the US. Employers would have to pay H-2C workers at least 115 percent of the federal or state minimum wage, or $8.34 an hour in states with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and $12.65 in California, where the minimum wage is $11 an hour. H-2C guest workers could switch to other designated employers after the E-Verify system to check the legal status of new hires is made mandatory for all employers.
Unauthorized workers would not be barred from returning as H-2C workers despite their illegal stays in the US, and could become legal immigrants if they qualified under current preferences, such as being sponsored by an employer or a US relative.
Farm worker advocates oppose HR 4092 because it would remove many of the protections in the H-2A program, such as employer-paid transportation and housing and does not offer currently unauthorized farm workers a path to US citizenship. Farmers oppose the 450,000 cap on the number of visas and mandatory E-Verify, fearing that they would be unable to hire unauthorized workers if there are too few visas for legal guest workers.