The guest worker proposal in the House

The House is scheduled to vote on two immigration bills next week. At least one of the bills will apparently address a legislative compromise over DACA, border security, employer verification (e-Verify) and a guest worker program.

This guest worker program fits into the legislative package in this way: if employers will be required to verify the legal status of their workers, this will create havoc in some major industries, in particular agriculture. A new guest worker program could normalize the status of these workers.

Bob Goodlatte introduced in the fall of 2017 the Agricultural Guestworker Act. It would replace the current H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The H-2A program today covers about 10% of the American farm workforce today, with numbers of about 150,000. The Goodlatte bill would introduce a replacement visa with a cap of 400,000 workers.

Goodelatte’s replacement visa is a H-2C visa. This visa provides for 36 months plus additional 18 month extensions, for agricultural workers. Workers must periodically leave the U.S, 10% of their wages are to be held in a trust fund, accessible only outside the U.S. Workers are barred from federal public benefits, and employers must provide the workers health insurance “in order to protect taxpayers from footing the bill for expensive medical care.”

The 10% wage hold-back is a copy of an element in the Bracero program of the 1940s through early 1960s.

The Bracero program did, and Goodlatte’s proposed H-2C program would primarily impact farming in California. But the H-2C would also normalize dairy farm workers throughout the country. The Bracero program suppressed farm wages, evidenced in in wage increases won by the United Farm Workers after the Bracero program ended.

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