Kaptur Votes To Pass Farm Workforce Modernization Act

December 11, 2019
Press Release
Legislation will stabilize agricultural sector and protect farm workers

Washington, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), voted to pass H.R. 5038, The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bill to stabilize the agricultural sector and protect farm workers.


“For too long, I have borne painful witness to the plight of our migrant farm workers, those who endure harsh working conditions to ensure our food gets from farm to table,” Rep. Kaptur said on the House floor in support of the bill. “Many of these workers leave their families and come to the United States in hope of finding descent work at a respectable wage yet are subjugated into serfdom. That is why I stand heartened that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act has been brought forth to the House floor.”


“This bill has strengths. It clears multiple pathways to citizenship, addresses the very serious issues of heat illness prevention, and proper family housing. All necessary provisions, upon which I will support this bill.”


“However, we must endeavor to address the rampant exploitation of migrant workers through human trafficking, lack of financial literacy and reputable banking structures, and insufficient enforcement against those prey upon them.  I look forward to continuing working with my colleagues to improve these conditions, and the many other outstanding obstacles, that prevent these workers from reaching the dignity they deserve.”


The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 will stabilize the agricultural sector and preserve our rural heritage by ensuring that farmers can meet their labor needs well into the future. 


Title I. Securing the Domestic Agricultural Workforce.
This title establishes a program for agricultural workers in the United States (and their spouses and minor children) to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment.

  • Provides a process for farm workers to seek Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status—a temporary status for those who have worked at least 180 days in agriculture over the last 2 years.  CAW status can be renewed indefinitely with continued farm work (at least 100 days per year).
  • Applicants (including spouses and children) must undergo background checks and pass strict criminal and national security bars.
  • There is no requirement that workers do anything else. But long-term workers who want to stay can earn a path to a green card by paying a $1,000 fine and engaging in additional agricultural work, as follows:
    • Workers with 10 years of agricultural work prior to the date of enactment must complete 4 additional years of such work.
    • Workers with less than 10 years of agricultural work prior to the date of enactment must complete 8 additional years of such work.


Title II. Ensuring an Agricultural Workforce for the Future.
This title reforms the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers.

  • Streamlines the H-2A visa process by:
    • Consolidating the H-2A filing process through an electronic platform in which all agencies can concurrently perform their adjudicatory responsibilities.
    • Allowing most employers to file a single petition for staggered seasonal labor needs.
    • Transitioning recruitment from newspaper advertisements to electronic job postings.
    • Reducing costs associated with visa processing by providing H-2A workers with 3-year visas.
  • Reforms H-2A wages to better reflect real-world wages, while protecting against sudden wage increases that disrupt employer planning and operations by:
    • Disaggregating wages for various agricultural occupations (e.g., crop workers, livestock workers, machine operators, etc.).
    • Freezing wages for one year and capping wage fluctuations for most of the country at 3.25% for the next 9 years.
    • Authorizing rulemaking to establish new wage standards after year 10.
    • Eliminating mid-contract wage fluctuations.
  • Accommodates the need for workers in year-round agriculture by:
    • Providing up to 20,000 H-2A visas per year (for 3 years) for dairy and other year-round agricultural employers.
    • Allowing the year-round H-2A cap to increase or decrease annually thereafter based on labor metrics or increase based on an emergency determination of a significant labor shortage, and providing the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Agriculture authority to determine whether to establish a numerical cap after 10 years.
    • Increasing the number of green cards that are available for employer sponsorship, while creating a means for workers to self-petition for green cards after 10 years of H-2A service.
  • Establishes a Portable Agricultural Worker (PAW) pilot program to facilitate the free movement and employment of up to 10,000 H-2A workers with registered agricultural employers. Registered employers could employ individuals with PAW status without first having to file a petition.
  • Improves the availability of farmworker housing while lowering employer costs related to such housing by:
    • Preserving existing housing stock, including by adopting H.R. 3620, the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2019, which authorizes $1 billion to rehabilitate housing that is aging out of USDA incentives programs.
    • Incentivizing new housing by tripling funding for USDA section 514 and 516 rural housing loan and grant programs and doubling funding for the section 521 rental assistance program.
    • Increasing the USDA per-project loan limitation to $5 million (from $3 million).
    • Granting operating subsidies to 514/516 property owners who house H-2A workers.
  • Reduces the need for litigation by adopting prior compromises to expand the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) to cover H-2A workers, while effectively requiring mediation to resolve differences.
  • Establishes a program to register and provide oversight over foreign labor recruiters engaged in the recruitment of workers for the H-2A program.


Title III. Electronic Verification of the Agricultural Workforce.
This title would establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment, phased in after all legalization and H-2A reforms have been implemented, and including necessary due process protections for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system. This serves as the last necessary piece to ensure a legal workforce for the agricultural sector.



There is broad support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act across labor, agricultural organizations, faith and civil rights groups and other allies including the United Farm Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (AFL-CIO), Farmworker Justice, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), Committee on Migration and the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dairy Farmers of America, American Beekeeping Federation, American Seed Trade Association, Bipartisan Policy Center Action, Clif Bar & Company, Del Mar Food Products Corp., Driscoll’s, Idahoan Foods LLC, Land O’Lakes Inc., Milk Producers Council, National Council of Agricultural Employers, National Farmers Union, National Immigration Forum, National Milk Producers Federation, Sunkist Growers, Sun-Maid Growers, Sunsweet Growers, U.S. Apple Association, U.S. Rice Producers Association, United Ag, United Egg Producers, United Fresh Produce Association, and more.