Agricultural Leaders Urge Guest Worker Programs

The agricultural industry is pushing for immigration reform to help create a permanent and stable workforce to harvest crops and work in meat -packing and processing plants or on poultry farms. According to Reuters, the majority of the 1.5 million agricultural workers in the United States are thought to be undocumented immigrants.

The existing H-2A visa for temporary farm workers allows immigrants to work for 10 months at a time, but dairy farms and meat processing plants are not covered by the program. In 2011, approximately 55,000 H-2A visas were distributed, but there are more than one million workers on fields across the country. These workers play a critical role in keeping the U.S. food supply domestic and improving the economy.

“If we are honest we must admit that Congress essentially left farmers with no choice but to hire undocumented workers, said Zoe Lofgren, U.S. Representative from California. “Let’s not fool ourselves.”

Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, told Reuters on behalf of the Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition. The coalition, which is comprised of poultry producers and meat processors, calls for a visa that will be good for at least three years, potential opportunities to apply for visa extensions and an indented path to U.S. citizenship.

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition, which is made up of a dozen farm and landscaping groups, released details for a guest worker program proposal that would allow workers to choose between a three-year and 11-month opportunity. Agricultural workers should also be granted an authorization to commit a minimum five-year set term to work in the industry. Following this time period, they could continue to do labor “under the Ag card” and work toward permanent status. The Ag card gives agricultural workers legal status to work in the United States.