Conservative Groups Hold Up Agriculture Guestworker Bill

By Teaganne Finn

Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee succumbed to pressure from a group that backs immigration restrictions and postponed a scheduled markup of legislation to create a new visa program for guest farmworkers, an agriculture advocate following the bill said.

The markup was scheduled for Oct. 4 on draft legislation that Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) unveiled earlier in the week. The Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 would replace the H-2A visa program with a new H-2C visa, which would be administered by the Agriculture Department.

“The votes were just not there,” an agriculture advocate who asked not to be identified told Bloomberg BNA, explaining that the group NumbersUSA was calling on members from states including Arizona, Florida, and Texas. NumbersUSA describes itself on its website as “working for immigration numbers that serve America’s finest goals.”

Democrats and workers’ rights groups including the United Farm Workers have opposed similar legislation in the past, saying it could allow guest workers to be exploited.

Under Goodlatte’s proposed guest worker program—which is backed by farm industry groups—year-round employers would be covered, including dairies, aquaculture operations, and food processors that aren’t included in the H-2A.

Additionally, his bill would allow undocumented farm workers to apply for H-2C visas so they can work legally. The program would also give workers in specialized jobs an initial stay of 36 months, and subsequent visas would last for 18-month work periods.

Bill Generates Limitations

NumbersUSA published an article on Goodlatte’s bill on Oct. 3 criticizing the proposed expansion to cover year-round employers with new housing provisions.

“These jobs have seen huge reductions in wages in the last decade, though Americans still currently hold the majority of these jobs,” said the article. Officials of NumbersUSA were not available to comment.

As of now, employers provide housing for guest workers through the H-2A program. Under Goodlatte’s new bill, employers would no longer have to provide housing.

“We’re still working on some of the provisions,” Goodlatte told Bloomberg BNA. “I’ve gotten comments from members and we’re working on it.”

A timeline on when the bill markup would be rescheduled is still undetermined.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at

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