On a western Kansas tour this week, U.S. Congressman Roger Marshall touted progress on a new proposal that would let more immigrants come into the country on guest visas to work on farms, in meat-packing plants and other agricultural jobs.
A bill introduced in the U.S. House in July would provide a temporary guest worker visa — known as the H-2C — for year-round agricultural work. Its co-sponsors include Marshall and fellow Kansas Republicans, Lynn Jenkins and Ron Estes.
The new three-year visa would replace the H-2A seasonal guest worker visa, updating it to better suit the needs of agricultural employers, dairies, and meatpacking plants. In 2017, over 200,000 guest workers entered the U.S. on H-2A visas.
The new H-2C program would provide 450,000 visas — 40,000 specified for meat processing plants, the rest available to other industries. However, the program could end up providing visas for a larger number of workers. Workers switching to the H-2C from H-2A or H-2B guest worker visas, and currently undocumented farmworkers would not count toward the 450,000 worker limit.
To work under the H-2C program, farm workers currently in the country illegally would need to apply to the program, and briefly leave and re-enter the U.S., before beginning work with their new Visa.
The bill would only allow visa holders to enter the country, not their families.
“There is no pathway to any type of citizenship or anything like that,” Marshall said. “It is strictly an agriculture guest worker visa.”
The bill would also mandate a phase-in of the “e-verify” system, a web-based system meant to prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers.
Bipartisan and Industry Support
A similar agricultural guest worker bill was proposed last fall, but it only received support from 13 co-sponsors, all Republicans. Then, in June, similar provisions were included in a Republican immigration bill. That also failed, partly because of opposition from Democrats.
This latest version of the bill has 82 co-sponsors, including some Democrats. It avoids the contentious Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. It addresses some previous criticisms by offering visas that let workers stay in the country longer and making more of those visas available. It also allows the current H-2A program to overlap with the H-2C program for one year.
Marshall said the bill is backed by the Kansas dairy industry, which doesn’t qualify for the current seasonal guest worker visas.
“Our dairy industry has been very involved,” said Marshall. “The feedlot industry is somewhat, but … the dairy folks have led.”
Marshall said his district, which covers the western two-thirds of the state, has the fastest-growing dairy industry in the country. But labor shortages are becoming a problem.