Chairman Goodlatte: As a former Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, I have had the opportunity to learn first-hand what farmers face in dealing with the H-2A program.
It is a costly, time-consuming, and flawed program. Each year, employers have to comply with a lengthy labor certification process that is slow, bureaucratic, and frustrating. It is a process that forces them to expend a great deal of time and money each season in order to prove to the federal government what nearly everybody already knows is the case: that legal, dependable farm labor is very hard to find.
In addition, the law forces them to pay an artificially inflated wage rate--higher than the prevailing wage in their region--and provide housing and daily transportation for their workers at their own expense. These farmers are paying an average of $10 an hour or more and still cannot find enough Americans willing to take the jobs. Even worse, as a result of complying with these H-2A regulations, H-2A farms almost always find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.
What all of this tells us is that farmers who participate in the H-2A program do so as a matter of last resort, and conscience. They do it because they know that, realistically, most of the available labor is illegal, and they don't want to break the law.
A guest worker program should help farmers who are willing to pay a fair wage for law-abiding, dependable workers, not punish them. For this reason I support replacing the H-2A program and implementing new policies that will bring our illegal agricultural workers out of the shadows, as a first step in the process of overhauling our nation's immigration system.
Addressing the complex labor issues of the relatively small agriculture sector can help us understand how we can rebuild our broader immigration laws and enforcement mechanisms in order to enhance the U.S. economy and make our immigration laws more efficient and fair for all involved.
Instead of encouraging more illegal immigration, successful guest worker reform can deter illegal immigration and help secure our borders.
I believe we should enable the large population of illegal farm workers to participate legally in American agriculture. Those eligible will provide a stable, legal agricultural workforce that employers can call upon when sufficient American labor cannot be found. In addition, a successful guest worker program will provide a legal, workable avenue for guest workers who are trying to provide a better life for their families.
It is well past the time to replace the outdated and onerous H-2A program--to support those farmers who have demonstrated that they will endure substantial burdens and bureaucratic red-tape just to employ a fully legal workforce, and to offer a program that is amenable to even more participants in today's agricultural economy. We can do this by designing a program with practical safeguards and expanding the current universe of jobs to include dairy jobs and work in food processing plants, among other things.
I thank Chairman Gowdy for holding this important hearing, and I thank our witnesses for sharing their insights with us today.