By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelust Buchanan Law

The House of Representatives has passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, granting legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers. The legislation to provide work permits for agricultural workers was approved on a bipartisan 260-165 vote. Only three Democrats voted against the bill while 34 Republicans voted for the bill.

Under the proposal, the bill would allow foreign workers who've worked in the U.S. agricultural sector, under an H-2A visa, for at least 180 days over the past two years to request five-year visas for themselves, their spouses and their minor children. Those visas would be renewable for workers who prove they've worked in agriculture for more than 100 hours per year.

Workers with more than 10 years of agricultural service at the time of enactment would need to work another four years in agriculture to obtain legal permanent residence. Workers with less than 10 years of agricultural experience would need to accumulate another eight years to qualify.

The bill also requires universal implementation in participating sectors of the E-Verify program.
The Act was introduced in late October 2019 by Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.).

The bill's proponents hope the measure could ameliorate a labor shortage in U.S. agriculture, an issue that's been aggravated by a complicated visa process and enhanced immigration enforcement. "In reality this bill also helps deal with a vital national security issue -- a stable supply of agricultural goods produced here, in the United States of America," said Díaz-Balart.

Republican right-wing Congressmen dubbed the proposal an "amnesty bill." Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an extreme opponent of pro-immigration bills, said the bill is "amnesty."

However, Rep. LaMalfa said the bill would provide a way for foreign agricultural workers to come to the country with prior authorization and allow for workers already in the country to regularize their status. "Those that are here, you know, we all acknowledge that many are not here legally, but it moves them to legal status without giving away the farm” said Rep. LaMalfa.

It's unclear when or if the Senate will take up the bill, although Senators on both sides of the aisle are expecting pressure from the agricultural industry and workers' groups to move it forward. "We've been working with the administration to make sure that we're at least getting close to something that they could support," said Newhouse.