What you may not know about the Agricultural Workforce Modernization Act

Across the country, a growing number of specialty crop growers are turning to the H-2A guest worker program to find the labor they need. But the best available solutions — like H-2A or using farm labor contractors — come with their own headaches, costs, and risks.

Finally, help may be on the horizon in the form of federal legislation: the Agricultural Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA). This bill has already passed the House and is now in the hands of the Senate. This could make a significant difference for many farmers and workers, but it takes a serious push from growers like you to cross the finish line.

Here are five things you need to know and one action you can take now:

Where does this invoice come from? The FWMA is a bipartisan bill. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced it in 2021, and the legislation passed the House of Representatives with 217 Democratic votes and 30 Republican votes. He now sits in the Senate, where he needs 60 votes to pass.

Who supports him? A wide range of organizations and individuals from all political walks of life support the adoption of the FWMA. This includes farmworker and immigration advocacy groups like Farmworker Justice; farmers and industry leaders across the country like Western Growers, US Apple Association, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, US Apple Association, National Milk Producers Federation, Tyson Foods and the International Fresh Produce Association; and the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank.

What’s in the bill? This is a large and complex bill, but it covers three main elements: streamlining and easing the H-2A farm worker visa program; create a pathway to legal immigration status and eventually citizenship for undocumented farmworkers; and requiring an E-Verify employment eligibility check for agricultural employers, but providing undocumented workers with pathways to comply

How would the FWMA help producers and workers? Changes to the H-2A program would make it easier for producers and workers to navigate, reduce costs for producers, and increase the number of employers and workers who can participate.

The FWMA would create 20,000 year-round visas each year, and potentially more in the future, creating a new pool of labor for year-round farmers who cannot use the seasonal visas currently offered. Additionally, a challenge for producers is the requirement to provide housing for H-2A workers. The bill also includes funding to help producers with housing costs.

Does this bill really have a chance? The FWMA passed the House last year but is currently stalled in the Senate. He enjoys bipartisan support, but not enough Republicans have signed up to put him above the 60 votes needed to pass. While many local and state farm lobby groups are behind the bill, the American Farm Bureau Federation opposes it for now — though that could change with enough pressure from growers. The latest reports from Washington indicate that the best chance for the bill to move forward will be in the lame session after the November election, but that will take a serious push from farmers across the country.

Learn more in this Ganaz article.


Michael A. Bynum