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Bill to reform H-2A introduced

Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte introduced a bill March 29 to reform the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program.

H.R. 1792, the Temporary Agricultural Labor Reform Act of 2007, would reform “the impractical aspects” of the H-2A program that have kept farmers from using it to employ a fully legal workforce.

Goodlatte serves on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law and is now the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, which he chaired from 2003 until this year.

He introduced a different version of the bill in the last Congress.

“This year’s bill is different in that Mr. Goodlatte proposes to expand the class of eligible H-2A jobs to include, among other things, meat processing jobs, nursery work, and fruit and vegetable packing,” said Stephanie Myers, Republican Deputy Chief Counsel to the House Committee on Agriculture.

“This will be achieved, in part, by language that will eliminate the requirement that H-2A jobs be ‘seasonal’ in nature. Another significant change he is making in this year’s bill will be the addition of language that would eliminate of the housing requirement from current law under H-2A. Finally, no cap on the number of H-2A visas is contemplated.”

This is Myers’s summary of the bill:

H.R. 1792 reforms the impractical aspects of the H-2A program in response to the predicament of farmers who, in order to employ a fully legal workforce, have undertaken the substantial burdens and bureaucratic red tape associated with the H-2A program.

H.R. 1792 will help deal with the problem of illegal immigration by encouraging farm workers who are in the U.S. illegally to return to their home countries and re-enter the U.S. through the H-2A program.

H.R. 1792 modernizes and streamlines the H-2A program and permits employers to attest to their need for workers when mandated efforts to recruit U.S. workers each season do not yield the help they need.

H.R. 1792 eliminates –

1. The artificially high Adverse Effect Wage Rate and replaces it with a prevailing wage standard;

2. The “50 percent rule,” which requires H-2A employers to hire any person who wishes to work before 50 percent of the contract period is completed;

3. The rule in some states (known as the “Arriaga” rule) that requires employers to pay their employees’ transportation costs before they have completed their first week of work; and

4. The requirement that H-2A employers provide free housing to their employees.

H.R. 1792 expands the scope of the H-2A program by permitting employers of year round agriculture workers – such as those in the landscaping, horticulture or meat processing – to apply for H-2A workers when sufficient U.S. workers can not be recruited.

H.R. 1792 levels the legal playing field by instituting fair rules for H-2A-related lawsuits, which will –

1. Require parties to attempt to resolve issues through mediation before going to court; and

2. Require Legal Services attorneys to have prearranged appointments with clients before entering a farm.

Cosponsors include Reps. Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Jack Kingston of Georgia and Jo Ann Davis of Virginia.

Originally posted Monday, May. 21, 2007

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