Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) introduced the Agricultural Guest Worker Reform Initiative, or AGRI Act, in the House of Representatives. The bill is an update of his previous STRAW Act and seeks to remedy shortcomings with the current H-2A guest worker program.
The bill transfers jurisdiction for agricultural guest workers from the U.S. Department of Labor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which Crawford said is better equipped to address the need for temporary workers and will make the program more accessible to the farmers who use it. The AGRI Act also makes the program more reflective of market demand by eliminating the Adverse Affect Wage Rate and instead allows employers to offer market-based contracts and wages.
The AGRI Act will increase the security of the program by requiring workers to return to their country of origin for one month following every 10 months of labor in the U.S. Workers will be financially incentivized to return after their contract term by making their FICA contributions refundable at the U.S. consulate in their country of origin. The legislation also requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide guest workers with a traceable, biometric identification card.
“For several years, the H-2A visa program has been a great benefit to our nation’s farmers by allowing alien workers to temporarily stay and participate in farm work during harvest season. However, the current program has a lot of flaws, which makes it difficult for producers to comply. The AGRI Act is comprehensive reform that streamlines the guest worker program and gives our farmers a steady stream of farm labor, which is critical to production,” Crawford said.