Posted on November 30, 2022

Backers of Farmworker Visa Overhaul Make Year-End Push for Immigrant Labor Deal

Kristina Peterson and Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2022

Lawmakers, agriculture groups and farmworker organizations are pushing to pass an overhaul of the farmworker visa program through both chambers of Congress before the GOP takes control of the House next year.

A bill providing a path to citizenship for about one million farmworkers—and creating a capped number of new year-round visas—passed the House in March 2021, with the support of 217 Democrats and 30 Republicans.

The measure is generally supported by immigrant advocacy groups and by farmers who say they struggle to find enough people to harvest their crops. {snip}


Supporters are now looking to the Senate, where Sens. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) and Mike Crapo (R., Idaho) are trying to reach an agreement they hope could secure the 60 votes needed to clear the chamber.

Time is ticking: If the legislation doesn’t pass this year, GOP leaders aren’t expected to be willing to bring it up once they have a majority in the House.

Currently there is no cap on the number of visas for seasonal agricultural work, known as H-2A visas, but farmworkers are only allowed to remain in the country for up to 10 months. That has created a problem for employers who need year-round help, such as on dairy farms.

The House bill would establish 20,000 three-year H-2A visas for year-round work, with that number expected to be higher in a Senate agreement, according to people familiar with the discussions.

At the heart of the bill is a trade-off. The legislation would provide a path to citizenship for the roughly one million farmworkers living in the U.S. illegally, long sought by Democrats. To satisfy GOP demands, the bill would also require employers in the agricultural sector to use an electronic system verifying the legal status of their workers.

Despite that provision, any legislation providing a path to citizenship for some immigrants without legal status is anathema to many Republicans who first want steps taken to tighten border security.


GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is expected to become the next House speaker, has said he wouldn’t support any bill to extend immigrant work visas without first addressing border security.


The Senate will remain narrowly in Democratic control next year. But with 60 votes needed for most bills to clear the Senate, any legislation on farmworker visas will require bipartisan support.

Messrs. Bennet and Crapo have been working for months on a bipartisan deal altering the House bill in hopes of securing 60 votes, but have yet to announce an agreement. If the Senate passes a bill with any changes, it will return to the House for another vote.

Under the House bill, anyone who can prove they have worked on a farm for the last two years would be eligible for a new visa called a certified agricultural worker visa. That would allow them to work legally in the U.S. for five years with the possibility to renew indefinitely.

Farmworkers who have worked in the industry for at least 10 years could apply for a green card if they work for four more years in the industry. If a farmworker has been in the industry for at least two years but less than 10, they must put in an additional eight to become eligible for permanent residence.