Courtesy of NAA:
The National Aquaculture Association recommends members contact their Senators to support passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 which has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. Find your Senators here.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act seeks to reform the process by which temporary foreign workers migrate to the U.S. to work in agriculture. The bill has support from both sides of the aisle and from both farmworker and grower constituencies.
The bill consists of three key platforms: (1) It would create a pathway to legalization for current unauthorized agricultural workers, including an eventual option to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR). (2) It would reform and modernize the existing H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. And (3), it would require all agriculture employers to implement a reformed “E-Verify” program to ensure their workers are authorized.
Originally introduced in 2019, Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) re-introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act on March 3, 2021.
1. Earned Pathway to Legal Status
The bill would:
Create a new temporary worker visa program for current unauthorized farmworkers called Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status. CAW visas would be renewable and five-and-a-half years in length, more than quintupling the length of the existing H-2A nonimmigrant farmworker visa. The number of CAW visas would be uncapped.
Establish eligibility requirements of the CAW visa. Unauthorized immigrants who have spent at least 180 days of the last two years in agricultural employment would be eligible. With few exceptions, applicants must meet existing work visa admissibility requirements to be eligible and must pass a criminal background check. Felons and those who have been convicted of multiple misdemeanors (two or more offenses of moral turpitude or three offenses in general) would not be eligible. DHS would accept applications only for 18 months after the bill goes into effect (with an option for DHS to extend for an additional year). Concerning the unauthorized farmworkers who have not worked enough days to qualify, additional H-2A visas would be made available for those who have worked for a lower threshold of at least 100 days over the last three years. Employees would not have to apply from their home country to receive these additional H-2As, so they would be able to continue working as their petition is processed.
Provide protections for employers, employees, and dependents:
Allocate Funds from the USCIS Immigration Examinations Fee Account (IEFA). In order to carry out this section, the bill would allow the appropriation of up to $10,000,000 from the IEFA, where all immigration application fees are deposited.
2. H-2A Temporary Nonimmigrant Visa Program Reforms
The bill would:
Establish new provisions for employers:
3. E-Verify for Agricultural Sector
The bill would:
Reform the existing E-Verify program. E-Verify is a generally voluntary, internet-based system that matches employees’ data to government records to ensure that all employees have work authorization. The bill aims to reform E-Verify to create an improved program that is more effective at identifying unauthorized workers, including the implementation of a photo matching tool and new processes to allow individuals to verify the proper use of their information. The program would also be free to use, reliable in remote locations, and include safeguards against privacy violations, misuse, and fraud. The privacy protections include allowances for individuals to suspend the use of their social security number in the system and a clarification that the system does not and will not call for the issuance of a national identification card. The new verification program would include appeals processes for non-confirmations.
Require agriculture employers to use E-Verify. Employers would be given between 6 and 15 months after the end of the CAW application period to implement the reformed E-Verify system, allowing a period for their current unauthorized workers to obtain legal status via either CAW or H-2A visas. The new E-Verify requirement would be phased in to apply to only new hires, with re-verification processes reserved for employees whose work authorization is within three days of expiring or who have been specifically identified by the Secretary of Homeland Security as having potentially used fraudulent Social Security numbers.
Establish penalties for employer infractions: Penalties for employer hiring and recruiting violations would be $2,500 to $5,000 per infraction, increasing to $25,000 in cases where the employer has received multiple prior cease-and-desist orders.
Bill analysis courtesy The National Immigration Forum.