“We’ve got to stress to our legislators that we can’t wait until tomorrow or the next day to get our products harvested. They have to be harvested when they’re ready, which is why we need immigration reform that will give us a steady workforce.”

Also from Pennsylvania, Christmas tree farmer Fred Strathmeyer uses the H-2A program, but before he brings a single foreign worker onto his farm, he has to advertise for U.S. workers. 

“You advertise on CareerLink, a nationwide program, and in the 20 years we’ve used (H-2A), we may have had 20 people apply for jobs. And in most cases those people either don’t show up or they show up for one day and they don’t last,” said Strathmeyer.

Two of the key components of the Senate immigration reform bill are a Blue Card program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs, explained Kristi Boswell, AFBF labor specialist. 

“The bill’s agriculture provisions are intended to ensure farmers and ranchers can maintain their experienced workers who are in undocumented status and will replace H-2A with a program with more flexibility,” she said. 

Under the Blue Card program, experienced agricultural workers can obtain legal immigration status by satisfying criteria such as passing a background check, paying a fine and proving that applicable taxes have been paid. Blue Card workers would be required to continue to work in agriculture before having the opportunity to qualify for a green card.

In addition, the bill would establish a new visa program that allows agricultural employers to hire guestworkers, either under contract or at will. Visa holders would be able to work in the U.S. under a three-year visa and work for any designated agricultural employer. The program would be administered by USDA.

The Senate is pushing for final passage of the legislation before adjourning for the Fourth of July recess.  

 

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