A new labor proposal introduced in the House of Representatives recently, the AG and Legal Workforce Act (ALWA), has received mixed reactions from the agriculture industry. Many provisions in the bill are similar to the immigration bill that was voted down in June. Numerous agricultural groups have issued various degrees of support for the bill, however, several industry leaders in California remain opposed to the legislation.
The bill would replace the current H-2A program by establishing an H-2C program, allowing 450,000 three-year visas to be issued annually for H-2C workers. The bill would also phase-in E-Verify participation mandates for new hires incrementally beginning on the date of enactment. All employers would be required to use the E-Verify system after two years.
One of the co-sponsors of the bill, Congressman Smith said in the introduction of the bill, “Expanding the E-Verify system accomplishes two goals: it protects jobs for American workers and reduces illegal immigration by cutting off the jobs magnet. Requiring all U.S. employers to check the work authorization of new employees ensures that the jobs only go to Americans and legal workers.”
A particular component of ALWA receiving a significant amount of resistance is the touchback mandate, which requires visa holders to leave the U.S. for a duration of time. “They want them to go back and then return to the United States and we think that that’s just not a viable, or reasonable solution to the problem,” said California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) Director of Employment Policy Bryan Little. CFBF is encouraging those in the agriculture industry to voice their concerns regarding the new labor proposal.
Western Growers has also made their opposition to ALWA known, noting the bill does not adequately address concerns related to protecting existing farm workers or ensuring the future supply of necessary labor. President and CEO of Western Growers Tom Nassif has previously noted what is needed from an immigration reform bill, “find a way to help these existing workers remain in agriculture and protect their families, so that they can do for our industry what they’ve done in the past, that’s all we’re asking.”
Nearly all sectors in agriculture can agree that action is needed to address the current immigration and labor situation, however, crafting acceptable legislation that satisfies the entire American agricultural industry is proving difficult.