(Repeats April 26 story with no changes to headline or text)
* House bill allows up to 500,000 guest workers a year
* It requires workers to return home periodically
* Farmworkers union opposes the Goodlatte bill
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, April 26 Meatpackers could hire
employees through an agricultural guest worker program for the
first time under a visa program proposed by the U.S. House
Judiciary Committee chairman on Friday.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who oversees the legal code, said he
would examine the immigration system issue by issue "to ensure
we get immigration reform right." The Senate is working on a
comprehensive reform bill that includes a separate path to
citizenship for undocumented farm workers.
The agricultural guest worker program proposed by Goodlatte
would be a replacement for the H-2A program, which critics say
is slow and overly bureaucratic. The new program would allow up
to 500,000 workers a year to enter the country for jobs with an
initial span of three years. It does not offer a permanent legal
status for illegal immigrants.
A Goodlatte aide said the question of "how to bring the
estimated 11 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows"
would be addressed separately.
The United Farm Workers union said Goodlatte's plan would
slash wages and benefits for workers and deny the opportunity of
In a statement, Goodlatte said his plan "is good for those
seeking a better life for their families by providing
opportunities to earn a living while temporarily working in
agricultural jobs U.S. citizens are not willing to do."
Food processors said the new guest worker program would help
assure a stable workforce in rural America.
The meat industry has moved its processing plants into rural
areas since the 1990s and drawn foreign-born, and especially
Hispanic workers, to rural communities. In some agricultural
counties, such as Imperial County, California, Clark County,
Idaho, and Seward County, Kansas, foreign-born residents account
for more than one-quarter of the population.
Dairy and livestock farms, who need workers year-round,
would benefit from longer-term visas for guest workers, who now
are limited to seasonal work.
Up to 60 percent of the estimated 2 million hired farm
workers are undocumented. The H-2A guest worker programs
provides about 70,000 additional workers a year.
Food processors called for longer-term visas for
lower-skilled workers as part of immigration reform early this
"We are manufacturers, wanting a stable and permanent
workforce that can help sustain the rural communities where we
do business," said Mike Brown, speaking for a coalition of meat,
poultry and egg producers and processors at a House hearing on
Goodlatte proposed an H-2C guest worker program that would
allow a visa of up to three years for year-round jobs on the
farm or in processing plants, including packing plants, before
workers would be required to leave the country. The visas could
be renewed for up to 18 months at a time followed by a return
home. To ensure workers return home, 10 percent of their wages
would be paid through the U.S. embassy in their home country.
Undocumented workers with a record of agricultural
employment would be eligible to continue to work legally on U.S.
farms. When the H-2C program is in operation, they also would be
required to leave the United States periodically.
By comparison, the Senate immigration bill would allow
undocumented farm workers to apply for permanent residency after
five years. It would allow 122,333 guest workers a year with
visas good for up to three years at a time. It has no provision
for processing plants.
The farm workers union said the Goodlatte package would
eliminate many labor protections for workers as well as remove
current requirements for employers to provide housing for guest
workers and to cover the cost of transportation.
A coalition of growers said it would stick to the farm
worker terms of the Senate bill.
Also on Friday, Goodlatte was a cosponsor of a bill to
strengthen the E-Verify electronic system to check if job
applicants can work legally in the United States. Goodlatte said
better enforcement would discourage illegal immigration.
(Reporting By Charles Abbott; editing by Andrew Hay)