Statement on H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019

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The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (H.R. 5038) would expand the liberty of Americans to employ, contract, and associate with foreign farm workers and their families. H.R. 5038 reduces costly and destabilizing government intervention into the farm labor market by easing the legal employment of foreign workers—both for those in the country already and those who wish to enter in the future. These changes will grow the U.S. economy, make America’s farmers more competitive internationally, and reduce unnecessary taxpayer-funded enforcement.

H.R. 5038 makes two important changes to immigration law. First, it provides a permanent legal status to those workers who currently assist in agricultural production without legal status, as well as their spouses and children. Without this change, farm labor would continue to operate under a pervasive black market that imposes uncertainty and instability for the industry.

Second, H.R. 5038 expands legal immigration for future foreign farm workers, making it possible for more farmers to access a reliable source of legal labor. The bill streamlines H-2A farm visas, removes duplicative bureaucratic reviews of employer applications, partially limits the broken minimum wage mandate, and alleviates the need to reapply for a new visa every year. Most importantly, the reforms would permit year-round H-2A workers and create an option for these workers to receive legal permanent residence.

H.R. 5038 is clearly a compromise. It mandates most of the flawed regulatory structure for temporary workers and imposes E-Verify’s broken employment surveillance system on all farmers and farm workers including U.S. citizens. Ultimately, however, H.R. 5038 permits more Americans and foreign workers to associate and contract freely than current law.

David Bier

David J. Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.