HOUSE Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) unveiled the first of his immigration bills April 26, which included a new agriculture guest worker program that's starkly different from what Senate members worked out with agricultural workers and employers.
Goodlatte said although the House "Gang of 8" continues to work on comprehensive, bipartisan reform, his committee hopes to propose legislation on individual components of the immigration debate to fine-tune each issue.
Goodlatte proposes replacing the existing H-2A agricultural temporary worker program with a new H-2C program. His approach has an "at-will" component that will allow producers to employ H-2C workers without first having to petition for them if they're designated as a registered agricultural employee.
The current H-2A program limits workers to a 10-month stay and places limitations on needs for year-round labor such as for dairy and livestock producers.
The maximum stay for H-2C workers in temporary or seasonal jobs would be 18 months, after which they must remain outside the U.S. for a period equal to at least one-sixth of the duration of their stay on the H-2C visa.
For workers in permanent positions, H-2C would waive the requirement to remain outside the U.S. after the first 18-month period. These workers can initially work for up to 36 months before having to leave the U.S. for a maximum period of three months.
Goodlatte's bill also enables food processors to use the H-2C program, something the Senate and current H-2A program do not allow.
In addition, unlike the H-2A program, the House proposal would remove the requirement for employers to provide transportation and housing to H-2C workers.
The total number of aliens who may newly receive H-2C status is limited to 500,000 per year, compared to 112,333 in the Senate version. The secretary of agriculture has the authority to raise or lower this cap based on a number of considerations in Goodlatte's proposal.
The major similarity between the House and Senate versions is giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture the new role of administering and regulating compliance of the program.
United Farm Workers, the main farmworker union involved in the Senate negotiations, criticized the House proposal, with spokeswoman Maria Machuca saying it "would eliminate many longstanding worker protections and slash wages for foreign and domestic workers."
Also, Goodlatte's proposal would not provide a roadmap to citizenship for the current farm worker labor force.