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NCAE Press Release on Bipartisan Cuellar-Newhouse Amendment

For Immediate Release
July 27, 2018

Contact: Michael Marsh, President and CEO
202-629-9320
Michael@ncaeonline.org

NCAE Statement on Passage of Bipartisan Newhouse/Cuellar Amendment Improving H-2A Program for Non-Seasonal Agricultural Employers

WASHINGTON, DC – “The National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) applauds the bipartisan effort of Congressmen Dan Newhouse (R-4th/WA) and Henry Cuellar (D-28th/TX) in extending the H-2A agricultural guest worker visa program to year-round employees on American farms and ranches. Their amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill would allow agricultural employers to utilize the H-2A visa program to hire foreign workers for non-seasonal work.”

“Historically, statutory restrictions prevented agricultural employers in year-round businesses from taking full advantage of the program. It was very problematic for dairy producers, mushroom farmers, greenhouse operators and the like to use the H-2A visa program because those agribusinesses operate 24/7, 365 days per year-there is no season.”

NCAE’s President and CEO Michael Marsh noted, “I am especially excited about the opportunity this amendment represents for my friends in these non-seasonal agribusinesses. Having worked in the dairy industry for 15 years, I understand how critically important it is for farmers and ranchers to access a legal workforce ready, able and willing to perform these tough jobs not filled by US workers. The amendment will not eliminate any existing worker protections. Employers will still hire all available US workers.”

“It is particularly timely that NCAE’s 5th Annual Ag Labor Forum in Las Vegas from November 28-30 will offer an H-2A 101 course for farmers and ranchers unfamiliar with the program. Immigration attorneys specializing in H-2A issues, H-2A agents, H-2A employers, and federal experts from the US Departments of Labor, Homeland Security and State will be sharing their expertise with attendees. These talented individuals are seasoned in assisting agricultural employers navigating the waters of this program while keeping compliance at the forefront.”

“Again, NCAE thanks Congressmen Newhouse and Cuellar for being champions for US agriculture.”

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The National Council of Agricultural (NCAE) is the national trade association focusing exclusively on agricultural labor issues from the employer’s viewpoint. Established in 1964, NCAE members are farmers and ranchers involved with labor intensive agricultural production, associations and others whose business interests revolve around agricultural employer issues. NCAE advocates legislation, regulation and federal policies to keep American agricultural employers ethically and economically viable and sustainable in the global marketplace.

 

‘From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow.’

In spring 2017, a small group of farmers – including National Council of Agricultural Employers’ board members – traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with then freshly minted U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at the White House. One of the important topics of conversation discussed that day, in the first few of the new Trump Administration, was the need for reform of the H-2A agricultural guest worker visa program. The farmers were asked by the Secretary and other members of the administration whether they had any suggestions for revisions to the program, and it just so happened they did.

NCAE’s H-2A Committee, which holds weekly telephone calls with users of the program, attorneys, agents and specialists, had been planning for this opportunity for quite some time. The committee had gathered input as well as legal advice and had developed a document for just such an opportunity. The document highlighted a lengthy list of concerns users of the program had experienced – but that wasn’t all. Somewhat unique to petitions for grievance provided to the government regarding bureaucratic programs, the NCAE document provided proposed solutions to some.

The NCAE document was provided to the new Administration with thanks delivered on behalf of the White House.

This began an internal process within the administration as interested parties tried to determine how best to use this thoughtful information. Debate was had amongst different senior level officials as to how the recommendations provided by NCAE could successfully be incorporated into the Trump administration’s policy priorities and initiatives. It was not an easy task and needed to be struck between competing points of view. Committed champions and antagonists debated the reforms NCAE’s H-2A Committee had proposed and finally, following months of deliberation, the champions prevailed.

Over a year later, May 24, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was joined by Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to announce the administration’s recognition that America’s national security is inextricably linked to America’s food security. The administration had identified correctly that evolving the H-2A agricultural worker visa is imperative to that security. The secretaries’ joint announcement was the first step in opening a regulatory process to reform the H-2A visa program.

Immediately following this announcement from the agency heads, NCAE made its own. NCAE stated its commitment, with grassroots input from NCAE members, to working with the secretaries and their agencies to modernize the H-2A visa program rules. We further stated our desire to enhance the program as a source of legal and verified labor for agriculture.

The Board of Directors recognizes that this is a real opportunity for the members of NCAE to shape the future structure of this critical visa program through the regulatory process. NCAE staff has already been accumulating, developing and compiling evidence to introduce during the regulatory effort and has reached out to our members for more.

At the same time, the NCAE Board understands clearly that not all ills of the program can be cured administratively. NCAE and our legal counsel believe several challenges inherent within the H-2A visa program can only be addressed legislatively. The board has instructed staff to be opportunistic with Congressional initiatives where we can engage our many like-minded and collaborative coalition allies to pass solutions to these challenges into law.

Grassroots is the backbone of the National Council of Agricultural Employers. The vision and preparation of our H-2A Committee meeting every week and hashing out details of the agricultural visa program served as the impetus for advancing this critical issue into the new administration. It will be this grassroots committee’s preparation, experience and knowledge that will guide the regulatory process to a fruitful conclusion.

Remember, Aeschylus said, “From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.”

And finally, just a reminder to those who have not yet saved the date for NCAE’s Annual Ag Labor Forum in Las Vegas Nov. 28-30 to mark those dates and plan to attend, because this issue and so much more will be discussed among attendees. This is a must-attend event for agricultural employers. Members and nonmembers are welcome.

I look forward to seeing you there and meeting you because your future, and your business, are too valuable to gamble away!

H-2A Employers Gain Access to Section 514 Housing Loans

H-2A Employers Gain Access to Section 514 Housing Loans

In the FY18 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 1625 – generally referred to as the “Omni” or “Omnibus”), passed by Congress and signed into law on March 23, 2018, includes a provision permanently changing the statutory language governing the Section 514 farm labor housing loan program.  Section 514 housing loans are administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) and offer low-interest loans (1% fixed interest rate) for periods up to 33 years, available to purchase or upgrade farm labor housing. Previously, employers of H-2A employees were specifically excluded from participating in the program, but this change adds permanent language to the statute expanding eligibility from U.S. citizens and green card holders to now cover housing for “a person legally admitted to the United States and authorized to work in agriculture.”

Credit for the change goes to Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) who introduced the provision in 2017 and to the persistent advocacy work of U.S. Apple and the Washington State Tree Fruit Association through NCAE board members Diane Kurrle and John DeVaney.  Prospective H-2A employers often cite difficulty in securing housing as the #1 deterrent to participating in the program, particularly growers on the West Coast. It is hoped that this common-sense change in the law will make it possible for more growers to access the Section 514 housing loans.

More information about the Section 514 program is available from USDA:

https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/farm-labor-housing-direct-loans-grants

Thank you to Chris Schulte of CJ Lake for preparing this update for NCAE Members.