House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced the Agricultural Guestworker Act or AG Act this week, which would replace the existing, H-2A temporary guest-worker visa program with a new H-2C temporary guest-worker visa. The H-2C visa would expand the types of jobs that foreign workers could perform under the visa, adding both dairy workers and meat and seafood processors to the program.
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a mark-up for the AG Act and Rep. Lamar Smith's mandatory E-Verify bill, the Legal Workforce Act, for Wednesday, October, 4.
Currently, the H-2A visa is an unlimited visa program, though only around 150,000 workers have entered the U.S. under this program in the last few years. The H-2A program is designed specifically for temporary agricultural field workers to help harvest and maintain crops.
The new H-2C visa would cap the program at 500,000 with an option to expand the number of visas by 10% a year if that cap is reached. The types of jobs that employers could hire foreign workers for under this visa would be expanded to include dairy farmers, meat packers and processors, and aquaculture operations. These jobs have seen huge reductions in wages in the last decade, though Americans still currently hold the majority of these jobs. Meat and seafood processors currently work in the United States under the H-2B, low-skilled visa worker program, so by placing these industries under the new H-2C, it could free up H-2B visas for other industries that use H-2B foreign workers.
Employers who hire temporary foreign workers under the H-2C program would still be exempt from payroll taxes, and they would only need to pay the foreign worker a minimum wage of $8.34 an hour in most states.
In addition, this new program would end the H-2A employer requirement to provide housing and reduce the number of guaranteed work hours from 75% to 50%. This means that the foreign workers would have to find their own temporary, affordable housing with less guaranteed working hours.
The bill would also grant an amnesty to illegal aliens currently working in agriculture by allowing them to receive the H-2C visas and then by giving them an opportunity to adjust to legal permanent residency (green card) after four years of ag work.
Under this bill employers would deduct 10% of the foreign workers’ wage to be repaid to them once they return to their home countries. This would provide a bigger incentive for the temporary worker to return home instead of overstaying their visa.
Read more on this legislation at CIS.org.
Updated: Tue, Oct 17th 2017 @ 10:25am EDT