The Farm Workforce Modernization Act may soon present employers with big changes in how they handle undocumented workers. This bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March to expand the H-2A Visa Program as well as make it easier for agricultural employers to use.
This act would give legal status as well as a path to citizenship to undocumented farmworkers in addition to freezing the wages of foreign guest workers.
The bill could provide significant benefits for employers, but it is important for them to understand how it will function.
The bill would allow undocumented immigrants that have been employed as agricultural workers for a minimum of 180 days any time in the last two years before the bill passed to be allowed to apply for certified agricultural worker status. A worker that is granted this status could qualify to be a legal permanent resident if they had already worked in agriculture for ten years before the bill passed and continue to work in agriculture for another four years. The certified agriculture worker status would only be for agricultural workers who arrived in the United States before the bill passed.
For workers who arrive after the bill’s passage, the H-2A temporary work visa program will be expanded. This will allow many agricultural workers as well as dairy workers to qualify in many circumstances where they formerly wouldn’t. However, a worker’s immigration status will now be tied directly to their employer. With an H-2A Visa, an employer must sponsor a worker in order for them to qualify, and if the employer ceases to sponsor them, they will lose their status.
Additionally, with either an H-2A Visa or the proposed certified agricultural worker program, an employer will be responsible for entering all of their workers’ information into an electronic verification system with considerable resemblance to the E-verify Program.
This will add an extra layer of difficulty and responsibility in hiring and employing these workers; however, employers will have a further incentive. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act will freeze the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR). The AEWR is effectively a wage floor in place for hiring immigrant farm workers that is intended to prevent unfair competition with domestic workers. This bill will not only freeze the growth of this wage floor for the next year but also cap its growth to 3.25% for the following decade.
Though this bill may pose considerably more work and an entirely new system for agricultural employers, many may find the financial benefits make it worth their while. Additionally, those experienced with the E-verify program may find the new system easy to use.