Bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act Passes the House of Representatives

December 11, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill spearheaded by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04), passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a 260-165 vote.

The bipartisan effort was negotiated over eight months with input from agricultural stakeholders and labor organizations and was introduced with the support of 26 Democrats and 23 Republicans. Click here for a one-pager and click here for bill text.

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “Our bill offers stability for American farms by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers. In addition, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses the nation’s future labor needs by modernizing an outdated system for temporary workers, while ensuring fair wages and workplace conditions. I urge the Senate to follow the House’s lead and swiftly pass the first-of-its-kind bipartisan immigration compromise in decades that improves America’s agricultural labor programs and laws.”

“Creating a legal and reliable workforce for American agriculture has been one of my highest priorities since coming to Congress,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse. “Our farmers and ranchers facing a labor crisis need relief, and the men and women who contribute to our nation’s agriculture industry need certainty. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the first step. This bill is our opportunity to finally provide stability to America’s farms and a significant improvement over the status quo. I am grateful to Representative Lofgren, our bipartisan coalition, and all of the agriculture and labor groups who helped draft the bill, and I encourage input from my colleagues as we continue working to improve this legislation in the Senate.”

“I am thrilled to see the Farm Workforce Modernization Act pass the House with a strong bipartisan vote,” said Rep. Mike Simpson. “Idaho farmers and ranchers have been asking me for years to address their labor needs and this bill takes an important step towards solving this issue. I would like to thank my colleagues Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, and Representatives Dan Newhouse, Mario Diaz-Balart, Doug LaMalfa, and Jimmy Panetta for their months of tireless efforts spent listening to farmers and workers alike to help craft this solution. It isn’t a perfect solution but compromise rarely is. The bill balances strong immigration enforcement with common sense reforms that allow our farmers to access a legal workforce without granting any special pathways. I hope the Senate can move similar legislation so we can sign a solution into law.”

“The need for a reliable and legal source of workers is a top priority for the agriculture industry, and I am proud to support the bipartisan Farm Worker Modernization Act, which is a significant improvement for rural America. This bill is great for our dairy industry, but we still need to address meat and poultry processing workforce needs going forward. I want to thank Ms. Lofgren, Mr. Newhouse, and the bipartisan group of Members for their hard work in getting us to this point,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson.

“I’m happy to see a good commonsense bi-partisan bill pass the House that is fair to farmers, farmworkers, and to U.S. citizens.  In California, and across the U.S., farmers have been calling for a reliable and legally documented workforce for years. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses these issues in a constructive manner that provides much-needed certainty for workers and farmers,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa. “Today’s strong vote in the House should help ensure the Senate will continue the effort we started. “

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a critical, bipartisan step forward for both our farmers and farmworkers,” Rep. Jimmy Panetta said. “I am thankful that the House advanced this effort to protect our existing farmworkers and promote an enduring workforce for agriculture. I look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate to get this bill passed into law.”

“Today, the House took a significant and necessary step for the American agriculture industry and our farmers who have long needed a legal, reliable workforce,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. “It’s critical that we continue to grow and produce our food here in the United States. The moment we hand that power to another country, we put our national security at risk, along with millions of American jobs. This legislation would allow us to have the necessary workforce to continue to provide for our citizens, while giving permanence to our agricultural workers who have devoted their lives to the industry. I am proud to be an original sponsor of this bill, and I thank my colleagues who have worked tirelessly on this issue. I encourage the Senate to work with us so this bill can be signed into law-- It’s time to modernize our agriculture industry and reinforce our economy.”

“With today’s passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, the House has taken an important step towards addressing the growing labor challenges on America’s farms,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “This legislation provides long-overdue security to current farmworkers and their employers, ensuring a future stable workforce under fair and safe conditions. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to find the courage to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and provide a seat at America’s table for those who have long grown the food we serve on it.”

The bill has garnered the widespread support of more than 300 agriculture groups and labor organizations.

“Today is a milestone because this is the first time in decades that the full House, under either party, has enacted an agricultural labor immigration bill,” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, President Emeritus, United Farm Workers. “This bill will help bring stability to agricultural workers and to the agricultural industry. Experienced and professional agricultural workers— who have earned the right to a stable future in the United States for themselves and their families—will be liberated from the pervasive fear they face every day while performing one of the toughest jobs in America.”

“The passage of legislation that helps address dairy’s unique workforce challenges is certainly a milestone and an opportunity we must pursue to the fullest,” said Jim Mulhern, President and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation. “Agricultural labor reform is long overdue. With today’s action it is now imperative that the Senate act to fully address the needs of dairy farmers and all of agriculture, helping farmers do what they do best: feed our nation, and the world.” 

“House passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act today is an important first step towards solving one of most significant challenges facing farmers and ranchers today. The legislation points the way towards achieving many of the long-standing immigration reform goals of NCFC and others in agriculture and Chairwoman Lofgren and Congressman Newhouse—along with the other original co-sponsors—should be recognized for their leadership on this issue. We look forward to continued engagement in the legislative process now that the bill has passed the House and will be sent to the Senate,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

The full list of cosponsors includes: Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV-02); Rep. James Baird (R-IN- 04); Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37); Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY-22); Rep. Susan W. Brooks (R-IN-05); Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA-29); Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA-27); Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-04); Rep. Luis J. Correa (D-CA-46); Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA-16); Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA-21); Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN-02); Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO-6); Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28); Rep. John Curtis (R-UT-03); Rep. David Scott (D-GA-13); Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13); Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19); Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25); Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16); Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1); Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11); Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA-3); Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29); Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH-07); Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA-10); Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3); Rep. Peter King (R-NY-2); Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01); Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL-05); Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05); Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI-10); Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10); Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04); Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA-22); Rep. Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ-1); Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20); Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA-52); Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN-07); Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1); Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY-23); Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA-36); Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA-38); Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR-05); Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA-08) ; Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID-02); Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08); Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA-11); Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07); Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19); Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21); Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT-2); Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH-15); Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3); Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA-5); Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO-3); Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA-35); Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM-02); Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI-06); Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX-34); Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR-02); and Rep. Don Young (R-AK- At Large).

“By passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, we take an important step in safeguarding the rights of farmworkers,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez. “These hardworking men and women help put food on our tables but do not always experience workplace and legal protections. This bill represents a common-sense immigration solution that will benefit farmers and farmworkers alike. I’m proud to see it pass with bipartisan support.”

“The agriculture community has shared with me they are in desperate need of a reliable and legal workforce with the declining number of agriculture industry workers,” said Rep. Susan W. Brooks. “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, part of an effort to begin steps to fix our broken immigration system, creates a strict, bipartisan program to allow legal status to these workers through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy. This workforce solution honors all farm workers who feed America, especially for those farmers with year-round labor needs.”

“I came to Washington to solve problems and we have a major problem when half our agricultural workforce is undocumented and vulnerable to abuse, and our farmers risk financial ruin for lack of a steady workforce. I think that everyone who is here should be here legally and we need to act to steady our agricultural economy,” said Rep. TJ Cox. “We shouldn’t accept this policy failure by our government as the status quo. Getting people from both sides of the aisle, farmers, ranchers, and labor on the same page is no easy feat, so I am especially proud to support this legislation which will bring U.S. residents out of the shadows, protect their rights, and stabilize the farming economy for future generations.”

“I’m proud to be a cosponsor of H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This legislation will ensure greater year-round stability for our farmers, strengthen our national security by ensuring we have a legal and documented workforce, prevents dangerous criminals from obtaining this status, and will create a less-complicated application process for farmers and ranchers. I’m encouraged that this bill also caps and stabilizes H-2A wage rates, prevents H-2A employees from receiving social safety net programs, and requires mandatory E-Verify for the agriculture industry. I look forward to seeing this legislation pass and be considered in the Senate,” said Rep. Jim Baird.

“This is an historic moment for farming communities across America, especially here in California and the San Joaquin Valley. Farmworkers are part of our communities and are some of the hardest working people I’ve met. It’s not fair they be subjected to living and working in fear.  Providing them a path to legal residency will help stabilize a workforce for farms around the country and alleviate the hardships they have been struggling with for years. This bipartisan bill is a monumental step in improving our immigration system and the Senate should pass it and send it to the President’s desk. This bill is good for farmers, farmworkers, and American agriculture. It’s the right thing to do!” said Rep. Jim Costa.

“In rural America where the agricultural sector is key to the success of the local economy, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act represents a bipartisan solution for ensuring a stable workforce for farmers and ranchers. Congressional districts like my own are heavily dependent on farm workers, and this bill helps ensure employers in the Fourth District and rural communities across the United States have adequate and legal access to the labor they need,” said Rep. Tom Cole.

“After water and trade, labor supply is the number one issue I hear about from the farmers I work for – and this bipartisan bill is the answer. It gives our farmers the certainty they need to get the job done while providing folks who earn an honest living out in the fields a path to earn legal status,” said Rep. Josh Harder. “We haven’t seen a bipartisan immigration bill of this size pass the House in decades – now it’s up to Mitch McConnell to do the right thing for once and work with us to fix this problem for the people we represent.”

“Our immigration system is broken and it’s going to take more bipartisan solutions like this one to fix it,” said Rep. Rodney Davis. “We need to pass border security, address DACA, and overhaul our legal immigration process to make the system work better. This bill balances the needs of agriculture while ensuring a legal workforce through mandatory E-Verify. I’m hopeful it will be the model to solving other difficult immigration issues in a bipartisan, commonsense way.”

“I’ve heard from farmers across our region calling for responsible, commonsense, bipartisan immigration reform and this bill delivers,” Rep. Anthony Brindisi said. “Our legislation will expand key visa programs for dairy farms and strengthen the electronic verification process for all agriculture workers. Working together, with Democrats and Republicans, shows that Congress can get things done for our farmers.”

“While this bill isn’t perfect, it is an important step forward to provide relief to our farmers. If Washington farmers, ranchers, and dairymen are going to continue to keep food on the table for our community and the world, we need an agriculture workforce that will meet their needs,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “Agriculture is Eastern Washington's number one industry, and I’m glad we were able to come together, find common ground, and move forward on a compromise bill that will make a real difference for Eastern Washington agriculture.”

"Right now, our broken immigration system isn't working for anyone — particularly our farmers who depend on temporary agricultural workers," Rep. Elissa Slotkin said. "This is a consistent issue I've heard about from farmers across our district, and I'm so proud that today we passed a bipartisan bill that, among other proposed fixes, creates year-round access to the H-2A visa program for dairy and other agricultural sectors that desperately need workers but have previously been unable to utilize the program. Formed in bipartisan collaboration, this bill is proof positive that we can and must find areas of common ground when it comes to immigration reform — and when we do, our local businesses, our communities and our economy are stronger as a result.”

“I was proud to help the House pass this bipartisan legislation to ensure our farmers have access to a stable, legal workforce, allowing them to continue to produce abundant, safe, and affordable food,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik. “North Country farmers have been waiting for agricultural labor reform for years, and this is a major step towards a real solution to the issues facing their workforce. We are fortunate to have a wide range of agriculture operations in the North Country that create jobs and drive our economy, and this legislation will maintain their success. I applaud the House for coming together to pass this important legislation and will continue to advocate for the diverse group of farmers in the North Country.”

“Today marks a historic moment for our country and our farmworkers. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act makes huge progress for America’s farmworkers and farmers. This bill will finally treat our immigrant farmworkers with the dignity and respect they have earned and create a pathway to citizenship, and I am proud so many of my colleagues joined me and Representative Lofgren in passing this bill,” said Rep. Lou Correa.

“Today we passed a bipartisan bill that will help farmers find a stable workforce and ensure migrants follow the law,” Rep. Steve Stivers said. “This bill looks out for the American workers and farm owners while also ensuring the labor needs of the agriculture industry will be met so that American farmers can continue to feed and clothe our citizens and our world.”

“I support the Farm Workforce Modernization Act because I know firsthand about the incredibly hard, backbreaking work farm workers do. This is especially true in the heart of South Texas where I grew up picking cotton to help my family. This bill is long overdue and would provide farm workers with important worker protections and legal rights that they desperately need,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia.

“Our farmers in southwest Michigan – who help to literally feed the world – have made clear to me that labor shortages are one of the biggest obstacles they face year after year. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a solution to that challenge,” Rep. Fred Upton said. “For our ag sector to remain the envy of the world, we need real ag labor reform that is fair for workers and growers and results in a reliable workforce.  I’m proud that my colleagues in the House came together to pass this bipartisan legislation that will make a real positive impact on our ag industry, and I hope to see it advance through the Senate and be signed by the President.”

“Our Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a strong, bipartisan bill and I’m thrilled that it passed through the House today,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal. “As a child whose father was a farmworker, I spent summers working in the fields and gaining an appreciation for the crucial work that puts food on all of our tables. I know firsthand the positive impact this will have on our agriculture industry and I’m glad this bill has the support of those who have the most at stake—growers and farmworkers across the nation.”

“Labor shortages were a frequent concern expressed by farmers and fruit growers at the 40 town halls I held this year. Today, the House took action to address those concerns by passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.  My early years were spent on my family’s cherry orchard in The Dalles.  I know firsthand the importance of having quality workers available when crops are ready for harvest.  You simply can’t wait.  This legislation ensures we have a guest worker program that meets the diverse demands of the more than 200 crops produced in Oregon, while also ensuring employers follow the law when hiring. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to move these needed bipartisan reforms through the legislative process and to the President’s desk,” said Rep. Greg Walden.

“The bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the product of a tremendous collaborative effort that represents first real breakthrough on immigration in over six years. American agriculture is facing a labor crisis. A stable and legal workforce is desperately needed to ensure our nation’s farmers can continue to produce the best food and fiber in the world,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader. "I applaud the hard work that my colleagues Rep. Lofgren and Rep. Newhouse put into the careful crafting of this compromise and their work in getting it across the finish line.”

“I’ve heard from farmers in my district, especially dairy farmers, about the need for year-round dependable labor. While this is a step in the right direction, we still have more work to do to make sure family farmers have the reliable workforce they need for livestock processing and other labor needs. I’m pleased to see this bipartisan compromise pass the House with strong bipartisan support,” said Rep. Angie Craig.

“The American agriculture industry is vital to our economic success. For years, outdated immigration laws have created an environment of uncertainty for farmers and farmworkers. This bipartisan legislation will modernize the immigration system to protect workers in the agriculture industry and create more stability in rural communities across the country. This is good for our economy and it is the right thing to do. I’m proud of the bipartisan coalition we built to support this bill that will help everyone – from the potato farms of Idaho to the citrus farms in my home state of California,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas.

“Today’s passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act marks an important success in our bipartisan efforts to reform our immigration system and strengthen our country’s rural economies. In Central Virginia, our crop and livestock producers need to be able to ward off the farm labor crisis and retain their workforce, and our greenhouses and dairies—which have unique labor requirements—need modernized policies,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger. “In face-to-face conversations with our producers, I’ve repeatedly heard that the current H-2A program is overly-burdensome and fails to address the year-round labor requirements of the Seventh District. By cutting down on red tape, creating a new year-round guest worker program, and stabilizing the existing workforce, this legislation reflects the needs of farmers in Central Virginia and across the country. As an original cosponsor of this bill, I’d like to thank my colleagues for advancing this commonsense, bipartisan legislation—and I encourage the U.S. Senate to take up this bill for a vote as soon as possible.”

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act offers the men and women who labor tirelessly in our fields the dignity of legal status that they deserve,” Rep. Norma Torres said. “In the absence of true comprehensive immigration reform, this bipartisan bill ensures that those who work in the blistering heat don’t go home to a life in the shadows.”

“I am excited to support this bipartisan bill that will address current and future agriculture needs in Washington State and improve job opportunities for farm workers. Labor plays a crucial role in our country’s agriculture economy because as we all know, crops don’t wait and millions of dollars are at stake. The farmers and orchardists I meet with in the eighth district all say that a stable workforce is critical to their ability to put food on our tables,” said Rep. Kim Schrier, M.D.

“America’s farm workers feed our nation and the world. When I speak with farmers and ranchers from across my district they always speak about the need for a greater availability of agricultural labor. As a rancher and a farmer, I understand the importance of a robust agricultural labor sector,” Rep. John Garamendi said. “This legislation will modernize our guestworker program, establish a pathway to citizenship for certified agricultural workers, and strengthen our agricultural sector. I’m proud to stand with a bipartisan group of colleagues in supporting this critically important legislation.”

Background:

Farmers and ranchers across the United States are in desperate need of a high-quality, reliable workforce, and the current H-2A guestworker program is in need of meaningful, bipartisan reform.  The Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates a workforce solution for America’s agriculture industry by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.

The bill will:

  • Establish a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.
  • Reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers. The bill focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.
  • Establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.

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