Senate Committee Passes Guest Worker Measures

May 16, 2008 - 11:36

A bipartisan amendment, titled the Emergency Agriculture Relief Act, intended to provide relief for critical labor shortages in seasonal agriculture and nonagricultural seasonal industries was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.

The amendment, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) passed by a vote of 17 to 12. In addition, Senator Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) H-2B legislation, a three-year extension of the returning guest worker exemption, also was passed by a vote of 23 to 6.

Though committee passage is only the first step in a long and difficult legislative process, these amendments “represent a victory for green industry employees,” according to an ANLA press release.

Feinstein’s Emergency Agriculture Relief Act (EARA) is patterned after the AgJOBS legislation. It would provide a five-year visa for experienced farm workers, including those in the nursery and greenhouse sectors, who meet strict conditions and agree to continue working in the agricultural sector. It would also overhaul the current H2-A program.

EARA would sunset in five years, but it would offer some temporary stability until Congress can enact more permanent and comprehensive reforms to address the agricultural labor crisis, according to the ANLA.

Mikulski’s returning guest worker exemption would provide a three-year extension of the exemption from the H-2B program cap for experienced returning workers. This year, many of these experienced workers have been unable to return to their seasonal jobs, leaving employers and local economies in limbo.

ANLA Director of Legislative Relations Corey Connors says that Senators Mikulski and Feinstein should be commended for their persistence in addressing the agricultural labor crisis and severe labor shortages in seasonal industries: “Hopefully, congressional leadership will now stop ignoring the voices of America’s small businesses and family farms, and bring these measures to the floor in both chambers for a fair vote,” Connors said.

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