In a little over a week, Congress has yet again failed to pass immigration reform measures. Last week, the House took up a bill know as the Goodlatte bill after the chairman of the Judiciary Committee Mr. Goodlatte. The bill had a number of reforms to immigration law and continued to evolve right up to the vote. Most significantly the bill contained Mr. Goodlatte’s Ag Act which was aimed at major changes in temporary guest workers for agriculture.
This week, the House again defeated a bill known as the Speakers Compromise Bill. This bill was mostly aimed at Border Security and the DACA recipients. It took a tough stance on the parents of the DACA program members as well as other tougher stances on some immigration issues. It looked like it might also contain the Ag Act but it never made it to the bill that got voted on.
While some in agriculture would like to see administrative reforms to the H2A program others would like to see it scrapped all together. The Ag Act is a replacement for the H2A program. There are a lot of pros and cons to the Ag Act but it seemed to take care of a lot of the issues gins had with the program. It addressed the self ratcheting Adverse Effect Wage Rage (AEWR) by tying the wage to the minimum wage. It expanded the number of employers that could use the program. It allowed for the movement of workers to other ag employers if they had completed their contract, Moved administration to the USDA. It allowed the current undocumented workforce to apply for H2C (new classification) while here and several other things. The biggest drawback is that it had a cap.
The current H2A program is uncapped and has been expanding greatly in the past few years. Likely a quarter of a million workers will come in under the H2A program this year. The companion non-agriculture guest worker program (H2B) has a cap that is met every year. The concern is that the 450,000 visa limit will be hit with the new program fairly quickly, particularly given the expansion in who can use the new program. The latest version of Mr. Goodlatte’s proposal allowed the H2C workers to come in for up to 3 years with a minimum 60 day return (touchback) during that time. Effectively it would be much more than the 450,000 limit.
It all probably didn’t matter much because neither bill had a chance to pass the Senate by most reports but it would have sent a message. As long as there’s a DACA problem, there is a chance that immigration bills will come up this Fall but maybe not until after the election.