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Recommendations to improve H-2A Program released

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On March 7, the House Committee on Agriculture’s bipartisan Agricultural Labor Working Group (ALWG) published its final report of policy recommendations on how to improve the H-2A Visa Program for temporary workers and relieve labor shortages which have seriously impacted America’s farmers and ranchers.

ALWG’s report includes over 20 recommendations – 15 of which received unanimous approval – to streamline the H-2A program and make labor more affordable for ag producers.

“The agricultural sector is currently facing urgent challenges caused by producers’ lack of access to an adequate workforce,” reads the report. “This has been a problem for decades, and it continues to worsen.” 

“U.S. farmers are already reeling from record-high production costs which have translated into thin and negative margins,” it continues. “The inability to find and hire workers is only exacerbating this negative trend.” 

Creation of the task force

In an effort to curb this issue, the House Agriculture Committee formed ALWG and tasked the group with identifying the root causes behind the lack of an available domestic workforce, the impact this has on the nation’s domestic food supply and potential solutions to address it. 

Members of the task force worked diligently over the past year, hosting five public roundtables in 2023, as well as multiple member-level meetings and a member forum on Jan. 18 with members of the House, to develop their list of policy proposals.

ALWG met on Feb. 6 and Feb. 29 to discuss and vote on the complete list of proposals. 

Only proposals receiving majority support were included in the task force’s final report, which includes 21 of the original 25 recommendations put forth by ALWG. 

Policies adopted with unanimous support 

Although ALWG’s recommendations don’t address all of the labor challenges facing ag producers today, they do offer needed solutions for everything from recruiting and hiring H-2A employees to reforming wage calculation standards, to name a few. 

Among the 15 unanimously voted in, ALWG recommends committees of jurisdiction work together to establish a new application processing system through the creation of an internet-based electronic portal; allow farmers and producers to file job postings on an electronic registry; permanently waive the in-person interview requirement for H-2A workers and expedite the review of delayed worker applications. 

ALWG further recommends requiring the Department of Labor (DOL) to consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and allowing USDA to provide written comments prior to publishing a rule or notice of proposed rulemaking with any changes or updates to the program.

The task force also asks Congress to require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on H-2A program integrity within one year of the program and to study and report on the mechanisms for H-2A workers to report workplace violations within two years of enactment and each two years thereafter, as well as on the effect of changes made to the H-2A process from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other recommendations unanimously voted on include adopting a de minimis exemption from the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), eliminating mid-contract wage adjustments, creating a federal heat standard, codifying special procedures currently in regulation, reforming the wage system to better reflect real-world wages and granting year-round industries access to the H-2A program. 

Policies adopted with majority support 

Additionally, six policy recommendations were adopted by ALWG with majority support. 

These include support for the creation of a new pilot program, in which an H-2A visa is good for three continuous years at a single site or location with no seasonality requirement and workers will be allowed to stay in the U.S. the entire time or return home if they would like.

ALWG also recommends providing DOL the authority to provide an exemption of the AEWR for operations under a certain size. For farms with a gross cash farm income of less than $350,000, the Secretary of Labor would be able to waive the AEWR requirement altogether. 

The task force further suggests changing the current part-time rules for joint employers to allow an H-2A employee to work full time for a single employer in a given week, enacting policies to restrict or cap annual increases in the AEWR to predictable and sensible levels that are manageable for large and small H-2A employers, directing DOL to use an alternative method other than the USDA’s Farm Labor Survey to better capture real domestic wages and serve as the basis for the AWER and reforming H-2A program housing requirements by improving the availability of farmworker housing and lowering employer costs related to such housing.

“We are losing farms in America at a rapid pace and there is no question our broken workforce system is partly to blame,” says American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall in a March 8 press release. “This report makes it clear, once again, there is bipartisan agreement on the need to improve the H-2A program to better serve America’s agriculture sector.”

“I am grateful to committee leaders for making this a priority when they could have looked the other way,” Duvall continues. “This is what leadership is all about, and I hope this work is followed by action. America’s farmers and ranchers are counting on Congress to address this issue before more farms go under.” 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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