CAPITAL PRESS Salem, Oregon)

July 19, 2017

 

Bill seeks to extend H-2A program to all farms

 

The H-2A-visa foreign guestworker program would apply to all of agriculture under an amendment in a security appropriations bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee.

 

By Dan Wheat, Capital Press

 

The Fiscal Year 2018 Homeland Security Appropriations Act passed the House Appropriations Committee July 18 with an amendment by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., extending the H-2A-visa foreign guestworker program to all of agriculture.

“That’s great for dairy and much needed for dairy,” said Dan Fazio, director of the WAFLA farm labor association in Olympia.

Dairies are the main agricultural operations needing foreign guestworkers that do not qualify for the program, Fazio said. Dairies do the same thing year-round and H-2A is intended for work that is seasonal and temporary, often tied to growing cycles, he said.

Landscape nurseries in Oregon are able to use H-2A because they have seasonal aspects such as planting and shipping that occur within their annual cycle, he said. The same argument can apply to shellfish operators, he said.

Modern agriculture techniques have become less seasonal and many farms are less seasonal with multiple harvests, one after another, Newhouse said in a news release.

“H-2A must be made more workable for farmers and my amendment clarified that all of agriculture may use H-2A so it operates effectively as our nation’s ag guestworker program,” Newhouse said.

The amendment does not change time limits on H-2A work, he said.

Workers may work no more than 10 months per year and then return home for two months.

WAFLA encourages employers to use H-2A workers for seven months or less at a time, Fazio said. WAFLA will assist Washington growers in hiring about 12,000 H-2A workers this year.

United Farm Workers issued a news release critical of the Newhouse amendment and Reps. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, for voting for it. It’s wrong to extend the “deeply flawed” H-2A program to dairies where workers drown in manure ponds because too many dairies deny basic labor protections, UFW said.

House Republicans ignore the workable solution of HR 2690 by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., providing legal status for workers, UFW said.