Hoping to stabilize the agrarian workforce in the U.S., a coalition of agricultural associations is calling for new legislation.
As Congress begins discussions on immigration reform, a collection of agricultural employers, including several associations, last week announced the formation of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) to ensure America’s agrarian operations have access to skilled employees.
It’s important for workers, farmers, and especially consumers that we have a legal, stable workforce in place. It’s time to move the discussion forward and find a solution.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity now that Democrats and Republicans are having a serious conversation about the critical need for immigration reform—an opportunity that cannot be wasted,” Tom Nassif, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association, one of the coalition’s members, said in a statement. “Agricultural employers have come together as never before in lock-step and agreement about a workable proposal that will serve the needs of farmers, workers, and the American people.”
As part of its goal to serve as a unified voice for agriculture groups, the coalition is proposing what it calls an “earned adjustment in status for current experienced farm workers” who do not currently have legal status in the U.S.
On its website, the AWC states that these workers would have an obligation to work in agriculture for a certain number of days per year for several years, and after that time would obtain permanent legal status and the right to work in other industries.
A second component to the AWC’s proposed reforms is the Agricultural Worker Visa Program that would provide employers with continued access to a legal workforce as current employees move on to other jobs. The program would distinguish between “at-will” employees, who could move between employers, and contracted employees committed to one employer—each group with its own visa terms, including a requirement that workers return to their home countries at intervals.
“This coalition framework proposal will help American agriculture achieve a market-based, flexible agricultural worker program that makes sense for everyone,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a statement put out by the coalition. “It’s important for workers, farmers, and especially consumers that we have a legal, stable workforce in place. It’s time to move the discussion forward and find a solution.”
Other members of the coalition include the U.S. Apple Association, the American Nursery and Landscape Association, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, and the Western United Dairymen.