Guestworker Program Introduced
October 27, 2017

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 out of committee on a 17-16 vote. The AG Act as it is called, is championed by Representative Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman the of House Judiciary Committee, and creates a new program for agricultural guest workers under the USDA. Peter Orwick, ASI Executive Director, said the American Sheep Industry has worked closely with Chairman Goodlatte and sees this effort as a great first step toward a legislative solution that gives sheep producers continued access to the legal and highly skilled year-round workforce they have traditionally relied on.

"Through our legislative committee, ASI has pulled together a group representing Western Range Association, Mountain Plains Agricultural Service, sheep shearers and ASI's producer leadership to identify priorities for the industry," said Orwick. "This effort has resulted in a set of benchmarks and legislative goals specific to sheep production in preparation for Congressional action. Our producers have relied on specialized guest workers since the 1950's to care for over one-third of all the sheep in America. With over half the regulations under the current H-2A program specific to the sheep industry, combining these critical provisions into beneficial legislation is a top priority for the sheep industry."

Following committee passage of the bill, Chairman Goodlatte noted the challenges producers across the nation face in securing a legal and stable workforce.

"Farming is a central part of American life and fuels our economy," said Goodlatte. "Although no other country in the world rivals America's agriculture industry, our nation's farmers face many obstacles in today's global economy. One challenge in particular is access to a stable and reliable workforce when not enough American workers can be found to fill jobs. The current agricultural guestworker program is unworkable for farmers, buries them in red tape and excessive costs, and must be replaced.

House Ag Committee Chairman Conaway (R-Texas) also praised Chairman Goodlatte's efforts toward resolving long standing flaws in the nation's guestworker program.

"It's time for an ag worker program that both respects our nation's immigration laws and keeps American agriculture competitive," said Conaway. "As a former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Mr. Goodlatte understands the challenges facing farmers and ranchers. His bill cuts red tape and institutes a flexible program that accounts for the different labor needs of various producers. I look forward to working with the ag community and Chairman Goodlatte to help shepherd this legislation through the House."

ASI, along with Mountain Plains Agricultural Service and six state affiliates also sent a letter in support of the AG Act, in which ASI President Mike Corn expresses their support for the act.

"While we understand that getting a bill out of committee is only the first step and there is still much to do to ensure the needs of sheep producers are met, we are grateful many of our priorities were included in the AG Act," said Corn. "Provisions for a skilled multi-year-round work force, while securing our border, are the hallmarks of a solid guestworker program. We look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Goodlatte and his colleagues in the House and Senate to ensure the final legislation improves on the success of the H2A program."

ASI will continue to follow the progress of the AG Act to ensure this legislation addresses the challenges America's sheep producers are currently facing in securing and keeping foreign herders.

The full letter can be found on the SheepUSA.org issues page under H-2A/Immigration, or at: https://d1cqrq366w3ike.cloudfront.net/http/DOCUMENT/SheepUSA/AG%20Act%20Endorsement%20Oct%202017.pdf .