Business, labor sign off on farm worker deal for immigration reform

Business and labor groups said that they support a compromise agreement on a new guest agricultural worker program.

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On Friday, senators were able to strike a deal to create a new visa program specifically designed for farm workers. That framework will be included in the Senate’s immigration reform bill and has been praised by both unions and business groups. The deal should help give yet more momentum to the legislation, which is expected to be introduced next week.

The Agricultural Workforce Coalition — which includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Nursery & Landscape Association and the National Milk Producers Federation among its members — said it will work with lawmakers to make sure that legislative language reflects the agreed-upon framework.

“The coalition is committed to including an agricultural guest worker program and supporting the general framework negotiated in any final immigration reform package. As members of Congress begin the process of drafting legislative language, we look forward to working with them to ensure that the bill details reflect the goals and intent of this framework agreement,” said the coalition in a statement.

“Securing a reliable and competent workforce for our nation’s farms and ranches is essential to ensuring that American consumers continue to enjoy abundant and affordable food on their grocery store shelves.”

The United Farm Workers (UFW) said it was pleased with the agreement.

“Under the proposed new immigration process, farm workers would be able to work in the fields without fear of getting deported immediately and will be able to reunite with their families in a relatively short period of time. The bill would give professional farm workers presently in the U.S., who have been contributing to our country, temporary legal status and the right to earn a green card in the future by continuing to work in agriculture,” said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez.

Under the framework, farm workers in the United States illegally can agree to work another five to seven years in the sector in order to earn a green card, according to Reuters. There will also be a high cap for visas that can be adjusted by the Agriculture Department after five years.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) helped to broker the agreement.

The current worker visa program for the agricultural sector, known as the H-2A visa program, has long been disparaged by business. Lobbyists have argued that the program is too difficult to use for growers.

Agricultural workers have been given special attention during the immigration reform debate. The principles released by the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in January said immigrant farm workers should be treated differently than other undocumented immigrants due to their importance to the food supply.