The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would streamline parts of the H-2A foreign guest-worker program and establish a path for workers in the agriculture sector to earn legal employment.
The news represents an important first step toward immigration reform efforts advanced by the Society of American Florists over the last decade, said Joe Bischoff, Ph.D., SAF’s senior lobbyist. Representatives approved The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038) with a 260-165 bipartisan vote. The bill now moves to the Senate to be voted on, and if passed there, will require President Trump’s signature to be signed into law.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) introduced the bill last month. Its supporters include lawmakers from both sides of the aisle — including Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-California) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) — who have productive working relationships with the Society of American Florists and its members.
The bill provides improvements to the H-2A program by simplifying the application process, modernizing recruitment, stabilizing the agricultural workforce, and providing Certified Agricultural Workers (CAW) the opportunity to apply for a green card. The bill would establish a program for workers to earn legal status through continued employment and contribution to the U.S. agriculture economy and it provides a path to eventual permanent residence status.
“The bill also includes language defining the applicable workers as those involved in all branches of farming, extending the definition to cover workers in processing/market,” Bischoff said.
Immigration reform has long been a top issue for the floral industry and SAF because businesses across segments depend on a steady, legal workforce, Bischoff added. The new bill isn’t perfect, but it is a significant development on an issue that has posed serious, often intractable challenges for many years.
“The bill would also establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system,” Bischoff explained, referencing the system employers use to verify work eligibility. SAF members have shared firsthand stories with Congress members about the shortcomings of that system, including inaccurate results. In the bill, Bischoff said, “the system would only be made mandatory for the agriculture sector and would include a phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers that may be incorrectly rejected, while protecting employers who are inadvertently harmed while implementing the new system.”
SAF will continue to monitor the legislation and keep members updated.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management.