SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- On Tuesday, Congressman Salud Carbajal (D- California) met with Central Coast leaders of the agriculture industry to discuss a bipartisan bill addressing labor shortage.
“This bill is about creating a sustainable workforce for agriculture," said Carbajal.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide a path to legalization for undocumented farmworkers and their immediate family “so that they can come out of the shadows and continue to work in agriculture," the congressman said.
Qualifying ag workers would be able to apply to 5-year renewable visas. Those who meet certain criteria would be eligible for a green card down the line and eventually citizenship.
The measure also promises to streamline the H2-A visa program, a system that allows farmers to recruit foreign employees for temporary positions.
“Right now the program does not lend itself to year round. The program is very bureaucratic," said Carbajal.
“It's difficult, it's a lot of paperwork," said Dan Sutton, general manager at Pismo-Oceano Vegetable Exchange.
Under the legislation, employers would have a single filing process through an online portal, cutting costs and processing time.
The bill would also establish a mandatory E-Verify system for the ag industry nationwide to ensure workers have the proper documentation.
“It's not perfect, but it has a lot of components that are going to be very effective and helpful to us in the near future," said Sutton.
At the same time, Sutton and other stakeholders at Tuesday's roundtable brought up concerns about the long term success of the proposal.
“It maybe did not give enough thought to the future workforce that's gonna be in agriculture 9, 10, 11 years from now. This bill doesn't include a lot of those considerations," he said.
The American Farm Bureau opposes the Farm Workforce Modernization Act for similar reasons.
The agency released a statement that reads, in part:
“Legislation advanced by the House Judiciary Committee falls short of a long-term solution to farm labor shortages, which constitute one of the most significant barriers to farm success in several regions of the country.
“This bill’s approach is not yet good enough. We need a program that U.S. farmers and ranchers can afford and that allows them to remain competitive in the long term with foreign imports.”
The bipartisan bill is supported by the California Farm Bureau, the United States Chamber of Commerce, Western Growers Association, among other organizations.
According to the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, the ag industry contributes $2.54 billion dollars to the county economy, and supports 13,000 jobs.