House bill puts H-2A under USDA

A group of bipartisan House members from New York introduced the “Family Farm Relief Act,” H.R. 6373, which would transfer oversight of the current H-2A farm worker program from the Department of Labor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The effort, led by Rep. William Owens (D-N.Y.), also makes a series of reforms to improve the H-2A program for producers that rely on it for farm labor.

“I have had the opportunity to meet with farmers across the district who use the H-2A visa program to find seasonal labor, many of whom report that this critical program is in need of serious reform,” said Owens.  “New York State’s economy depends on the success of its farmers, and so we must do everything we can to ensure they have the tools to make it in today’s economy.”

The bill provides for an electronic filing system for H-2A petitions and repeals or prohibits a series of regulations imposed on farmers through the program.  These include domestic workforce regulations as well as certain advertizing and recruitment requirements.  The bill also specifically opens the program to certain dairy workers, who currently are barred from participation in the program.

The H-2A visa program allows farmers to hire foreign seasonal workers when domestic labor is unavailable. New York’s agriculture industry is a major driver of the economy, employing thousands in the region. It is estimated that each job in the agriculture industry supports up to three off-the-farm jobs. In New York, this means 59,000 agriculture jobs and over 150,000 related off-the-farm jobs depend on the H-2A visa program.  These jobs are threatened when growers do not have reliable access to labor.

“We can make the H-2A program run better,”  said Owens, “and in doing so we can help pave the way for family farms across the state to do well in the years ahead.”