The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on May 15 approved legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) that would provide emergency relief to the nation’s current agriculture labor shortage. The legislation was offered as an amendment to the Iraq supplemental spending bill.

According to a statement from Sen. Feinstein, the Emergency Agriculture Relief Act does not provide a path to citizenship or a green card. However, it would grant temporary, limited immigration status for experienced farm workers who would be required to continue to work in American agriculture for the next five years.

The legislation is designed to address the perennial shortage of agriculture workers. These shortages have caused fruit to rot on trees and farming operations to move to Mexico, according to the statement.

“This amendment provides a consistent, stable workforce for an industry that depends almost exclusively on undocumented labor — agriculture. And it provides temporary status for those who have worked in agriculture and who will continue to work in agriculture for a number of years,” Sen. Feinstein said at the committee markup.

The amendment is supported by the American Farm Bureau and the United Farm Workers. Virtually every farm organization in the United States is in support of this legislation, Sen. Feinstein said.

The legislation is not amnesty, Sen. Feinstein said, it’s an emergency agricultural worker bill which will give protected status to those workers who have worked in agriculture within the last 48 months. Workers must work at least 100 days a year in agriculture for the next five years, and a five-year sunset is included. The bill also reforms and streamlines the H-2A program.

Major points of the proposed Emergency Agriculture Relief Act:

– Temporary limited immigration status for agriculture and horse workers; – Temporary emergency agricultural program capped at 1.35 million workers;

– Requires that emergency agricultural workers who have worked in agriculture to work at least 100 days per year in agriculture for the next five years;

– Requires that workers pay a $250 fine plus processing fees; and

– Includes a five-year sunset.

H-2A program modifications include:

– No cap on H-2A visas;

– Application process is more streamlined to allow employer’s request for H-2A workers to more quickly obtain government approval;

– Freezes wages at the 2007 level for three years while a new fair wage standard is studied;

– Changes the H-2A program’s housing requirement so that an employer can provide a housing allowance if there is adequate rental housing available;

– Changes the H-2A program’s transportation subsidy so that employers no longer have to pay for trips of less than 100 miles or for transportation costs if housing is not provided; and

– Includes a five-year sunset.