Currently, the Department of Labor (DOL) classifies some forestry-related activities such as tree planting and herbicide application (including right of way application) in the H-2B non-agricultural guest worker program, while classifying other work such as logging in the H-2A agricultural program. Most forestry work, however, is considered agriculture-related and is regulated as such by state and federal agencies.
The forest products industry relies heavily on seasonal foreign guest workers to sustain forests and manage vegetation. Because this work is usually seasonal, and because tree-planting crews are itinerant, without a connection to a community, domestic workers are typically not interested in these jobs. The H-2B guest worker program has helped fill a gap in the domestic workforce for a time, but as a result of increased demand for H-2B visas from other industries in recent years, the sunset of the returning worker exemption and the current annual cap of 66,000 is no longer sufficient. Thus, the industry believes a more long-term, consistent and stable solution to our annual labor shortages is in order.
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The Agriculture Guestworker Act (“AG Act”) H.R. 4092
- House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has long championed a new streamlined visa program to replace the cumbersome H-2A program.
- FRA has worked with Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) and his staff over the past several years as he developed the AG Act to address agriculture’s need for a program to enable efficient employment of foreign agricultural workers when there are insufficient numbers of U.S. workers available.
- The AG Act was introduced on October 2, 2017, and includes “forestry-related activities” in the definition of agriculture, thus enabling forestry employers to access the H-2C visa program.
- In addition to creating a new visa program, the bill would enable workers in agriculture without legal work authorization to obtain legal work status.
- Features of the H-2C program
- Employer can employ visa worker for up to 18 consecutive months
- Visa worker can change jobs after completing contract employment
- Program administered by USDA
- Mandated wage rate is the higher of state/local wage or 15% above the federal minimum wage
- No housing or transportation mandate
- Annual cap of 500,000 with automatic escalator if all visas claimed; former H-2A and H-2B workers don’t count against the cap when working for the same employer; a worker who adjusts to legal status does not count
- The AG Act was attached to HR 6136, the compromise immigration legislation that did not pass. We are expecting the AG Act to be included in an effort later this summer to address agricultural guestworker concerns.
- Making it easier for employers to get seasonal workers;
- Clearly defining the rules to follow;
- Keeping wood supply competitive;
- Does not displace U.S. workers;
Forest Resources Association, Inc.
Tim O’Hara, FRA Government Affairs and Lake States Manager