Lawmakers Agree Program Regarding Farm Workers Must Be Changed

Congress is working on immigration reform. Both sides of the aisle agree farmers should be allowed to hire foreign workers more easily - the problem comes from disagreements on how to do so. So - ag industry representatives offered options to improve and reform the U.S. Workable Agricultural Guestworker program to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security's hearing on Tuesday.

Many lawmakers believe the visa program that allows farmers to hire foreign workers accounts for a very small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of workers hired in the U.S. for farm work. They play a critical role to the U.S. economy and food supply - but growers say their productivity and ability to keep operations in the U.S. is threatened by the difficulty of ensuring a stable labor supply.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman presented a market-based labor program - which would be administered by the U.S. Department of agriculture - that would be a substitute for - and eventually replace - the program in place now. AFBF believes the program would provide farmers with access to that legal, stable workforce and also give employers certainty they have access to the necessary workforce at a competitive cost.

Stallman says ag's goal is to develop a program that treats workers fairly and is efficient and economical for employers. In order to provide short-term stability and an orderly, effective transition to a new program - Stallman says it is imperative that any approved legislation by Congress include provisions permitting current ag workers who might not otherwise qualify to obtain work authorization - as any new program will take time to be fully implemented.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree the current system is broken and needs to be fixed - but for now they can't agree on how to improve it. Many Democrats believe any changes should be made in the context of comprehensive changes to U.S. immigration laws that would provide a road to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country - including farm workers.

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