The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was introduced on Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA). The bill would reform the H-2A visa program to address the agricultural labor shortage. Among other provisions, it would amend the H-2A program to allow a capped number of visas for farmworkers to work year-round.
American Sheep Industry Association Executive Director Peter Orwick told the Northern Ag Network they are supportive of this act. He said this legislation is similar to a bill that went through in the last Congress.
“The H-2A program is very important to the sheep industry. Any given day you have H-2A sheep herders out with flocks,” Orwick said. “As an average, one-third of all the sheep in America are under the care of an H-2A sheepherder.”
Orwick also said the sheep industry, like much of agriculture, has been struggling to find help with a labor shortage. The sheep industry has been using foreign labor since the 1950s. All the H-2A provisions that are specific to sheepherders, such as year-round herders, is very important in this legislation as well as the specific number of herders allowed.
National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Jen Sorenson, said they believe this legislation is a step in the right direction.
“The U.S. pork industry is suffering from a serious labor shortage, negatively impacting farms and processing plants. Unfortunately, the current H-2A visa program is designed for seasonal agriculture, ignoring the needs of U.S. pork producers and other year-round livestock farmers.” Sorenson continued, “We look forward to working with Congress to enact meaningful labor reform that both opens the H-2A program to year-round labor without a cap and provides legal status for agricultural workers already in the country. Though changes to the current proposal will be necessary to meet those needs, we’re confident Congress will find a solution that works for all parties.”
NPPC also said visa reform is needed to ensure that U.S. livestock agriculture can compete globally and continue to provide safe and affordable pork to Americans and consumers worldwide.
House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott (D-GA) issued a statement applauding the introduction of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act calling it critical and providing certainty for farmers and farmworkers.
“Immigration reform within our agriculture sector is long overdue, and I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues to move this bill forward,” said Scott. “I supported similar legislation when it passed the House in the 116th Congress, and I look forward to supporting it again.”
National Pork Producers Council
House Agriculture Committee
Northern Ag Network – 2021