GOP lawmaker introduces bipartisan guest worker bill

GOP lawmaker introduces bipartisan guest worker bill
© Greg Nash

Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoGOP lawmaker cites 'herd immunity' when asked why he's without face mask GOP sees groundswell of women running in House races GOP lawmaker introduces bipartisan guest worker bill MORE (R-Fla.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would create a year-round agricultural guest worker program.

The Florida Republican said the bill would address the labor shortages in the sector and help ensure a “reliable, predictable workforce,” providing reforms for those with H-2A visas.

“We've got a bill, I think it's the perfect bill because it solves the needs of our producers plus it also gives opportunity to the workers,” he said at a press conference.

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“And our bill today separates immigration issues from labor issues," he added. "This is a guest worker program for agriculture and I like to have things that are purity of purpose.”

Under the Labor Certainty for Food Security Act, individuals both outside the country and in the U.S. illegally would be able to apply for the three-year visa with renewal available up to six months prior to its expiration. While it would not provide a pathway to citizenship, it would allow migrants to apply for citizenship while working legally in the country. 

Workers would be provided with a biometric identification card in lieu of a Social Security number, with a 15-digit identification code for tax withholdings.

The bill includes language that would require employers to hire American workers before petitioning for migrant workers, language aimed at ensuring U.S. employees aren’t displaced. 

Employers would be required to compensate the workers with the highest of “115 percent of the federal minimum wage, the state minimum wage or the actual wage level paid by the employer to all other individuals with similar experience and qualifications for the specific employment in question.”

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According to the legislation, immediate family members of unauthorized workers who are accepted into the program would be eligible to remain in the country for as long as the worker is enrolled in the program.

The bill has garnered one bipartisan supporter, with Rep. Ed CaseEdward (Ed) CaseMORE (D-Hawaii) having signed on to the measure, but Yoho said he has received commitments from a number of Democrats who have agreed to cosign the legislation.

Yoho's bill would compete with the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a similar bipartisan proposal passed through the House late last year, although it's more limited in scope.

The earlier bill was the result of months-long closed-door bipartisan negotiations with Reps. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (D-Calif.) and Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO GOP lawmaker introduces bipartisan guest worker bill Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain MORE (R-Wash.) at the helm.

It expanded the guest farmworker visa program, while introducing a path to permanent residency for workers after 14 to 17 years of agricultural work.

The bill passed the House in December with nearly all Democrats and 34 Republicans voting in favor, but the GOP-led Senate is not expected to take up the measure.

Yoho said he feels his bill better fulfills the needs of both producers and workers, noting the e-verify component is structured differently in his bill,  with the verification process taking place before workers enter the country. 

“It [the Farm Workforce Modernization Act]  doesn't create a dedicated agriculture workforce, our bill does that. People sign up to it, they agree to work in ag and ag only. And if they get outside of that, work construction, hospitality or one of the other fields, they have broken terms of this, and then the employer who hires the person that is not approved for a certain sector, they're going to get fined and penalized,” he said at the press conference. 

“People are automatically enrolled in the e-verify system before they come into the country," he added. "And we deal also with that group of people that are in this country illegally, we allow them to get into this program and it doesn't prevent them from becoming a citizen, it's not a pathway to citizenship, but it allows them to become legal in this country, and from that point, they can apply for citizenship just like anybody else.”