WASHINGTON – Industry stakeholders applauded federal legislation that would create a new guest worker program. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, House Judiciary Chairman, introduced the Agricultural Guestworker Act also known as the H-2C program.

Key features of the program include:

• Growers who are designated as a registered agricultural employer can hire guest workers without filing an additional petition for individual guest workers.
• Guest workers are subject to binding arbitration and mediation of any grievances.
• Eliminates government-established wage rate with the prevailing wage rate or the state minimum wage, whichever is higher.
• The program cap is set at 500,000, but the Agriculture Secretary can raise or lower the cap based on market needs.
• Guest workers are not eligible for health care, earned income tax credit, child tax credits or welfare programs.

“An effective occupational visa system may be the most important barrier to illegal immigration,” the coalition said. “The right visa system with the right screening tools will in effect be a ‘virtual border.’ The ‘Agricultural Guestworker Act’ and the creation of the H-2C program would serve the diverse interests of the agriculture and food manufacturing industries and will boost the modern agriculture labor market.”

The Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition, which includes industry trade groups, said H-2C would create a stable workforce for the agriculture industry while streamlining and modernizing the guest worker program.

“The introduction of this legislation, and the bill introduced in the Senate, are important first steps in the immigration reform process, which will be a dynamic debate featuring many proposals to reform our flawed immigration process,” the coalition said. “We commend Chairman Goodlatte, and we look forward to working on a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.”