Rep. Rick Allen Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Reform and Strengthen H-2A Program
Washington, June 2, 2015
U.S. Congressman Rick Allen (R-Ga.-12) today announced he has introduced the Better Agriculture Resources Now (BARN) Act, H.R. 2588, bipartisan legislation to improve efficiency of the H-2A visa program. The H-2A program allows agriculture employers to hire non-immigrant workers for temporary labor. However, bureaucratic red tape that has frequently stalled or prevented efforts by employers to apply for and hire H-2A workers has made the program difficult for farmers in Georgia and across the country.
The BARN Act addresses these shortcomings by shifting responsibility for H-2A certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implementing reforms to streamline the program and give farmers more certainty.
“The H-2A program provides workers that many farmers in Georgia and across the nation rely on. However, the program’s current structure is preventing the H-2A program from working as intended,” said Congressman Allen. “For too long, the Department of Labor has ignored or needlessly delayed H-2A applications from farmers and not understood the timely manner in which crops must be planted or harvested. The BARN Act transfers responsibility for H-2A certification to the Department of Agriculture, which is better suited to meet the needs of farmers and their operations in a time-sensitive fashion. The bill also offers reasonable reforms to address areas of the program that have failed farmers and strengthen accountability of H-2A workers and employers.”
Similar legislation was previously introduced in the 112th Congress by former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.-03), who is also an original cosponsor of Allen’s BARN Act.
Congressman Allen stated, “I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation that continues and builds upon the reforms offered by Rep. Westmoreland and former Rep. Jack Kingston. The BARN Act will improve the H-2A program to better serve farmers and provide a more reliable labor supply for the agriculture industry.”
· Transfers responsibility for certification of H-2A need from DOL to USDA to improve efficiency in the processing of requests.
· Keeps jurisdiction over all immigration status issues at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
· Lowers the maximum filing deadline for employers to request H-2A labor from 45 days to 30 days in order to accelerate the certification process.
· Eliminates the 50% Rule, providing farmers greater certainty by allowing them to retain H-2A workers who have been employed on their operations for less than 50% of the duration of their visas.
· Requires that wages of H-2A workers not exceed 115% of the minimum wage rate at the federal or state level (whichever is higher).
· Requires non-immigrant workers to return to their home country after their H-2A status has expired or face penalties from DHS, unless USDA grants the worker an extension.
· Sets clear housing requirements for H-2A workers.
· Responsibly changes necessary grounds for claims filed by Legal Services Corporation to reduce burdens on H-2A employers caused by frivolous lawsuits.
· Includes strong reforms to combat H-2A overstays and fraud.
· Prevents non-immigrant workers with previous criminal offenses from participating in the H-2A program, while holding employers responsible for adhering to H-2A hiring requirements as well.
Legislative text for the BARN Act can be found HERE. In addition to Rep. Westmoreland, original cosponsors of the bill include U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.-02), Mike Bost (Ill.-12), Ken Buck (Colo.-04), Kevin Cramer (N.D.-AL), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.-01), Luke Messer (Ind.-06), Tom Rice (S.C.-07), and Joe Wilson (S.C.-02).
The BARN Act is also supported by the Georgia Farm Bureau. Zippy Duvall, Georgia Farm Bureau president, commended Congressman Allen’s introduction of the legislation:
“If BARN were to pass in its current form, the H-2A program would be much improved,” said Duvall. “We believe better H-2A rules would allow more farmers to utilize the program. BARN is clearly a step in the right direction.”
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