(UPDATED 7 p.m. MAY 14) Six years after it was originally introduced, the Agricultural Job Opportunity Benefits and Security Act of 2009 (AgJobs) was reintroduced to Congress on May 14.

AgJobs legislation returns to Congress

Putnam

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reintroduced the bill, citing stories of industry employers who have struggled to find workers. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., introduced a similar ill to the House of Representatives.

 AgJobs passed in 2006 in the House of Representatives, but went no further as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Now seems to be the perfect time for AgJobs to flourish, said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations for the American Nursery and Landscaping Association, Washington, D.C., and co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Labor Reform. 

“The bill itself is essentially the same bill it was originally with some minor technical tweaks made necessary by the passage of time,” Regelbrugge said. “That’s remarkable in itself. There is a commitment behind AgJobs by both employers and the labor community.”

Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., wrote a letter of support to Sen. Feinstein following the bill’s introduction.

“This is something that’s obviously been needed for years,” said Ray Gilmore, United Fresh’s vice president of communications.

AgJobs provides reforms to the H-2A temporary worker program that:

  • streamline administrative procedures;
  • reform wage and labor protections; and
  • expand eligibility.

It also outlines a process by which workers can earn temporary resident status and, after five years of agricultural employment, apply for permanent residency.

There is a lot of work ahead, said Tom Nassif, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.

“Until the president decides it’s a high priority for him and he’s ready to move ahead, then I think AgJobs will be out there and that the folks that support it will be trying to get more supporters waiting for the day when the president says it is time to enact immigration reform,” he said.

Regelbrugge said the waiting game begins with House and Senate debate this summer.

“It is inevitable that there will be an escalating conversation about border reform,” he said. “It will be a waiting game over the summer.”