The new Temporary Agricultural Workers Visa Program (H-2C bill) passed the United States House Judiciary Committee review last Wednesday. H-2C is described in the Ag Worker Act (HR-4092). H-2C is a proposed update to the current H-2A program. Hopefully the new program will simplify hiring temporary workers for farm work. Before going into the details of the proposed Ag Worker Act, it is important to know a little bit about the current H-2A program.
The H-2A program allows farmers and other employers to hire temporary foreign workers for jobs that U.S. workers are not able, willing, qualified, or available to fill. Employers must show that employing H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. A number of the details associated with the program are listed below.
- H-2A allows employers to fill jobs that are temporary or seasonal in nature.
- H-2A allows only contract work.
- H-2A workers are granted temporary worker status in increments of up to one year, for a potential length of stay of three continuous years. After that, the worker will have to reside outside the United States for at least 3 months before becoming eligible again for H-2A status.
- H2-A is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor
Similar to H-2A, the proposed H-2C program allows farmers and other employers to hire temporary foreign workers for jobs that U.S. workers are not able, willing, qualified, or available to fill. And like H-2A, employers must show that employing H-2C workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. However, H-2C differentiates from H-2A in a number of key factors.
- H-2C aims to consolidate all food-related temporary ag workers under one system. So all workers who would qualify for H-2A are included, as are those produce-related workers in H-2B (Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers Visa Program), and other workers previously not included, such as dairy and fishery workers.
- H-2C would include both contract and at-will terms.
- H-2C workers will be able to move from farm to farm, following the need for workers.
- H-2C workers will be granted temporary worker status in increments of up to 18 months before needing to return to their home country. The amount of time required to remain in their home country will equal 1/12 times the duration of the previous authorized time in the U.S., such as 45 days for an 18 month employment.
- H-2C does not lead to citizenship, but does give workers a legal status in the U.S.
- Growers would still be required to recruit American employees before filling the vacancies with H-2C workers. But, they will not be forced to hire workers once temporary workers have arrived.
- H2-C will be overseen by the USDA.
The author of the H-2C bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), promises the new program will cut costs and red tape for farmers. The bill is also expected to provide more flexibility to American farmers with respect to housing and transportation. Let’s hope that these promises hold true! A summary of the bill is in progress, but it can be found at this link https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/4092 when it becomes available.