The Senate is still undecided whether to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, even with talk of deals on a few of the provisions. With the upcoming August recess, ongoing inflation, and looming reelection duties, fear arises that the FWMA may not beat the clock.
However, activists remain hopeful that this bill would be beneficial not only to immigration but to inflation, two of the major issues facing our nation today.
What is the FWMA?
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is an immigration bill aimed at creating a more modernized workplace in the agricultural community. Congress has already passed H.R. 1603 and is now awaiting the Senate to draft and introduce its act.
The goals of the proposed Farm Workforce Modernization Act are:
- To create a legal status program rewarding workers for their ongoing agricultural employment, and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy
- To reform the H-2A visa in order to protect workers and give flexibility to their employers with year-round labor needs
- To initiate an agricultural mandatory E-Verify system to allow for a more structured and guaranteed process for workers
If passed, the agricultural industry stands to benefit especially year-round employers such as the dairy and meat industries who need to employ periodically to meet demand.
Even prior to the pandemic, the industry faced a low domestic labor force which accelerated the need for H2-A visa applicants to triple from 2012 to 2021.
As it stands today the H2-A visa can be used for seasonal or temporary agricultural work in which there is a lack of domestic workers available for the demand. Some places that may use H2-A visa workers include:
A U.S employer, U.S agent, or U.S agricultural producer may submit an I-129 on behalf of a nonimmigrant worker in order for them to temporarily perform services or labor, providing they:
- Are offering a seasonal/temporary job
- Have evidence there are not enough domestic workers who are able, available, willing, and/or qualified
- Prove the wages and conditions of employment for U.S workers will not be impacted by employing H2-A workers
- Submit a single valid temporary labor certification
The FWMA and H2-A
The addition of this bill serves to support the success of the current H2-A provisions by allowing more employees and employers to be eligible. As of now, the H2-A visa is not effective for year-round agricultural employment, which creates struggles for farmers who do not have a seasonal demand in the same way, such as those in the dairy industry.
Another key influence would be the pathway to legalization that could follow for dedicated employees participating in this program and proving their contributions to the country’s economy.
Why is the Senate Divided?
Though this bill has passed the House twice, the Senate has been in continuous deliberation over passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
One benefit to both sides is the alleviation of inflation currently impacting groceries. The proposed bill is directly related to the cost of food, as increased migrant labor would decrease prices. It is also possible that FWMA would decrease border traffic as more temporary workers would be granted visas.
The current process involved in applying for temporary visas places a burden on employers who struggle to get enough workers in time for harvesting. Essentially, the act would allow for a streamlined process in which more immigrant workers would be permitted to provide labor for the agricultural industry.
However, one hesitancy lies in the provision stated in H-2A which allows workers to sue employers for not abiding by labor laws. While those in favor of the bill believe that equal protection for all workers is essential, especially with the increase in immigrant workers, those opposed to it fear this provision may lead to unions.
There is also hesitancy towards the increased wage policy and the caps on the number of expanded visas for farm workers, as currently stated in the provisions. The American Farm Bureau Federation is an open critic of the act which may impact voting.