Following the recent election, President Obama and leaders in Congress have said on many occasions that immigration reform is going to be one of the top priorities for this Congress. Now to be sure, they have plenty of other things to take care of but it seems that the time may actually be close to get something done on this.
For years there have been proposals that attempted to address the problems of a broken immigration program particularly for agriculture. Many of these proposals were band-aids on the H2A program and some were actually more of a comprehensive approach. Even the “comprehensive immigration reform” just attempted to “fix” the H2A program. None of these passed and the only option for agriculture is still a very non-functioning H2A.
Most employers that have the potential to use H2A take one look at the paperwork, and hoops that are required and throw up their hands. The ones that do use it almost exclusively use a contractor to navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy. Southeastern Cotton Ginners has said for years that H2A is broken and needs to be fixed or replaced.
A new coalition has formed in Washington. The Agricultural Workforce Coalition came together recently and has put out some proposals that look very interesting. Under their approach ag employers would fall into two categories and either hire at will employees or contract employees. There are different terms of entry and exit for these workers that can be read about on their website.
The AWC also has provisions in their program that allow for those working in agriculture to move toward permanent status over a period of time working in agriculture and allowing the new program to get rolling. What to do with workers already here is one of the sticking points that has held all immigration reforms of the past up. We will have to see how this one is received.
I will be attending the National Council of Ag Employers meeting the first week in February and will have much more information following that meeting.