House Sends Bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act to the Senate

March 18, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, H.R. 1603, 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 247-174 vote.

The bill provides a compromise solution by permitting farmworkers—and their spouses and children—to earn legal status through continued employment in the agricultural sector, and would make changes to the H-2A agricultural guest worker program.

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But many of them do so while living and working in a state of uncertainty and fear, which has only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act accomplishes this by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers and updating and streamlining the H-2A temporary worker visa program while ensuring fair wages and working conditions for all workers. I look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle to get this bipartisan legislation that serves the best interests of our country to the President’s desk.”

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the bipartisan, targeted labor solution our agriculture industry needs. By creating a viable and desperately-needed agriculture labor program, we are removing opportunities to work illegally in the United States, strengthening our border security, and ensuring we have a reliable, legal workforce for our farms and ranches for years to come,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse. “Today’s passage marks an important step forward for farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get it to the President’s desk, and deliver historic and meaningful reforms for American agriculture.”

Click here for a two-page summary of the bill.

Click here for a section-by-section outline of the bill.

Click here for the full text of the bill.

H.R. 1603 has garnered the widespread support of more than 300 agriculture associations, labor organizations, immigrants’ rights advocates, and business interest groups.

The bill was negotiated over eight months in 2019 with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations, and farmworker advocates. In December 2019, it became the first agriculture labor reform legislation to pass the House of Representatives since 1986. Since its passage in the House, a bipartisan coalition of Members has been working to strengthen support for the legislation. 

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is vital legislation that provides much-needed security to farmworkers and their employers, ensuring a stable workforce under fair and safe conditions,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “With the passage of this bill today, the House has taken the long-overdue step of providing a seat at America’s table for those who have long grown the food we serve on it. I thank Immigration Subcommittee Chair Lofgren for her work on this important issue, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to act swiftly and pass this bipartisan, sensible legislation.”

“Food is a national security issue and it is past time that we treat our farm laborers as the essential workers they are. They, with our farmers, put food on Americas dinner table every night. These workers should not live in fear – they are part of our Valley communities,” said Rep. Jim Costa. “I have worked throughout my time in Congress to find a way to provide a path to legal status for these hardworking individuals. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act gives them the protection they deserve and creates a stable workforce for our farmers.”

“For way too long, farmers and farmworkers all across our nation, including in our own communities on the central coast of California, have dealt with a broken and bureaucratic immigration system that has led to way too much uncertainty and instability in the agriculture industry,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta. “Fortunately, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a bipartisan solution that would protect the existing farmworker and promote an enduring farm workforce by providing an earned path to legalization for those willing to continue working in agriculture as well as a streamlined H-2A visa process. Hopefully, there will be members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle that not only understand and appreciate this crucial, complex, and politically complicated issue, but also have the will to sit down, work together, and agree on this much needed legislation, as we did in the House, as an important solution for our farmers and farmworkers and communities and country.”

“My father was a farmworker and I spent summers working with him in the fields, so I know firsthand how important the labor of those who harvest our food is to my community and to this nation. Agriculture is a major economic driver in my district and I have heard countless times from producers about the devastating labor shortage that stems from our broken immigration system,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal. “We have a lot of work to do to reform our immigration system and this bill is one focused and significant step to accomplish that goal. This groundbreaking, bipartisan bill creates a lasting solution by providing earned legal status for existing farmworkers and it modernizes the guest worker program to ensure long term industry sustainability that supports farmworkers and growers alike.”

“Our immigration system was designed by folks in Washington with less than zero understanding of the needs of our ag community and our farmworkers. It’s time we update our system so our farmers can hire the workers they need, and our workers can get right with the law,” said Rep. Josh Harder. “This bill is a win-win for our workforce and our ag industry, not to mention its impact on keeping our communities whole.”

“Farmers across upstate New York provide the American people with the safest, most abundant food supply in the world, and they need access to a reliable workforce. During 54 town halls and countless farm tours, I’ve heard from dairy, organic, and diversified farmers about the need to modernize and streamline the H-2A visa program,” said Rep. Antonio Delgado. “I am proud to join Republicans and Democrats to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a historic bill that supports farmers and strengthens workers protections for farmworkers. Notably, this legislation would finally allow dairy farmers to access the H-2A farmworker program – a critical priority for our upstate agricultural economy. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a strong, bipartisan effort to help fix our broken immigration system and support families, farmers, and local economies. I urge the Senate to move immediately to pass this legislation.”

“One of the greatest challenges in the agricultural industry is the lack of a steady workforce,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar. “This bipartisan legislation will offer stability to American farms by providing a pathway to legal status for migrant farmworkers. As a senior member of the Agricultural Subcommittee on Appropriations, I will continue to work for American family farms so they can continue to produce healthy and affordable food during this pandemic, and beyond.”

“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.

“In our one-on-one and direct conversations with me, Central Virginia farms, agribusinesses, and greenhouses have been clear that the existing H-2A program is in fundamental need of reforms. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act provides much-needed changes to our immigration system, including the H-2A program,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger. “In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, we need to focus on passing legislation that contributes to long-term economic security for the businesses that make our communities strong — and this legislation tackles many of the employment difficulties facing our district’s rural communities. By stabilizing the existing workforce, creating a year-round guest worker program, and simplifying the hiring progress for agribusinesses, this bill marks a step towards addressing a piece of the immigration and jobs challenges we face.”

“Our country is at its strongest when we embrace our immigrant communities,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Raul Ruiz, M.D. “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. I would like to thank Congressperson Lofgren for putting pen to paper and drafting the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. For decades, Congressperson Lofgren has been a fierce advocate for farmworkers and a champion of immigrant communities; the Congressional Hispanic Caucus applauds her leadership and dedication.”

“Farmworkers perform backbreaking, skilled work. They have kept food on our tables and our economy running through this pandemic. But too many of them live in fear every day of being separated from their loved ones,” said Rep. Linda T. Sánchez. “This legislation will help keep working American families together, stabilize our farm systems, and stimulate our economy. This bill not only advances the rights of farmworkers but is proof that we can come together to deliver permanent, practical solutions to our immigration system. I applaud and thank my colleague and fellow Closer Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren on her leadership and commitment to this issue.”

“Now more than ever, we must come together to protect farmworkers. These essential workers have been devastated by COVID-19, demonstrating the critical importance of protecting this workforce. Food security is national security. When we protect our farmworkers, we are protecting every one of us,” said Rep. Lou Correa. “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act makes huge progress for America’s farmworkers and farmers. This bill protects our food supply chain while finally treating our immigrant farmworkers with the dignity and respect they have earned. I am proud so many of my colleagues joined me in passing this bill.”

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

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act represents the good that Congress can do when members from both sides of the aisle work together to tackle difficult issues. This bipartisan bill is the product of a tremendous collaborative effort that is good for farmers, AND farm workers,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader.  “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. I would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) for their work in helping bridge the divide so we could find a solution that works for farmers and farm workers.” 

“Family farmers in Minnesota depend on reliable, year-round labor in order to grow and harvest the crops that feed billions of people across the globe. The establishment of a functioning and fair guest worker program will help to support agricultural producers and kickstart our economic recovery,” said Rep. Angie Craig. “I’m proud to support this bipartisan legislation, which will help to provide stability and security for our nation’s farmers while enacting long overdue reforms that will provide legal protections for the workers that our food system depends on. We have more work to do to increase the availability of a legal workforce in the food processing and meatpacking industries, but this bill is a good start.”

“Farmworkers are essential to the success and prosperity of this country. My father was a farmworker for several years of his life. He worked hard every day to provide for his eleven children as do the millions of farmworkers who live in this country,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas “They grow our food for little pay and often do this work under very tough conditions. Many of those farmworkers are undocumented immigrants who live in constant fear of deportation every day. That is why I'm proud to support the Farm Workforce Modernization Act – to provide stability and legal protections for America’s agriculture workers.”

“The men and women who work our fields in the blistering heat deserve better than a life in the shadows,” said Rep. Norma J. Torres. “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act ensures that the people who feed America have a pathway to become Americans, reforms our policies to give farmers more flexibility, and guarantees workers critical protections. I’m proud to support this bipartisan legislation and pleased to see it pass today.”

“America’s farmworkers feed our nation and the world,” said Rep. John Garamendi. “Farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers from across my district all describe the need to me for greater availability of an agricultural workforce and support for their families. As a family rancher and a farmer, I understand the import role farmworkers and their families play in our communities and the rural economy. This bipartisan bill will provide a pathway for permanent legal status and, ultimately, a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented farmworkers who have lived in the United States with their families for years. It will also modernize our nation’s laws for agricultural guest and seasonal workers to ensure American farmers and ranchers have access to a skilled and essential legal workforce. I’m proud to stand with a bipartisan group of Congressional colleagues in passing this critically important legislation for our nation’s farmworkers, rural communities, and American agriculture.”

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 bill:

  • Establishes 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.
  • Reforms the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers.
  • 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.

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