One of the most important immigration bills put forth by Congress in recent years continues to languish in the Senate. The bill, known as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), will be beneficial to farmers and their H-2A workers should it ever become law. But at the time of this writing, passage was still not guaranteed.
Though the House has passed various versions of the bill over many years of wrangling, the Senate has not been able to reach a compromise. The main sticking point this time around is expansion of another labor law that would ultimately allow temporary agricultural workers to sue their employers.
As immigration attorneys and experts in immigration law, we have seen this sort of thing before. Whenever Congress sets their minds on changing some aspect of U.S. immigration, congressional leaders must walk that fine line of balancing the interests of workers against those of their employers. The current wrangling over FWMA is no exception.
What the Bill Would Accomplish
The main thrust of FWMA is allowing farmers to hire their H-2A workers permanently. As the law currently stands, H-2A workers are temporary workers only. Such workers make up the vast majority of the ranks of migrant workers who travel the country following growing seasons.
As the thinking goes, passage of the bill would benefit farmers by giving them access to a greater pool of permanent workers. They would not have to worry about recruiting and hiring on a seasonal basis. Likewise, it would benefit workers by offering considerably more stability than they currently enjoy.
Proponents of the bill say it could potentially lower food prices by inviting more foreign agricultural workers to apply for the H-2A visa. A larger labor pool would help farmers produce more, thereby bringing prices down.
Why Some Senators Are Resisting
On its face, the FWMA seems like a bill that should pass quickly. So why are some Senators resisting? It goes back to the fear of lawsuits.
Existing legislation known as the Migrant and Seasonal Agriculture Workers Protections Act (MSPA) already protects the rights of agricultural workers to some degree. The law even allows such workers to sue their employers if they believe labor laws have been broken. But when the MSPA was written, it excluded H-2A workers from the lawsuit provision based on the fact that such workers were deemed temporary.
The FWMA seeks to expand the MSPA in order to allow H-2A workers the same right to sue. A number of agricultural industry groups, particularly in the southeast, are wary of such expansion. They fear that passage of the law would embolden unions to go after farmers with frivolous lawsuits.
Farmers and industry trade groups out West say they are not worried about that sort of thing. Many of them utilize a mixture of domestic and H-2A workers, meaning their operations are already subject to the MSPA’s lawsuit provision. They say they do not really have issues because they take care of their workers.
It’s Up to the Senate Now
The fate of the FWMA rests squarely in the hands of the Senate. It is up to them now, and time is running out. If the bill does not pass prior to the November elections, it’s not likely to get done this year. Furthermore, it is quite possible that both the House and Senate will change hands in 2023.
Immigration law is a complicated thing. But the politics behind changing the law are even more complicated. That’s why we practice immigration law. We make the complex simple by offering expert representation in business immigration and other related areas.
Please contact us with any questions or inquiries: 408 715 7067; email@example.com.