(Washington, D.C.) Congresswoman Cathy McMorris (WA-05) today chaired an Education and Workforce Committee hearing that focused broadly on the impact of guest worker programs on the U.S. workforce. McMorris focused on the need for a temporary legal agriculture workforce and the impact of the prevailing wage provisions that were included in the Senate-passed immigration bill.
“The witnesses at the hearing highlighted the complex issues involved with implementing an effective guest worker program and we will to continue to examine this issue further,” said McMorris. “We need to find a way for people who want to come into this country to work on a temporary basis to do so legally and then return home. The agriculture industry in Eastern Washington is facing worker shortages and we need to find a way for them to have a legal labor force to meet their seasonal needs. This includes having a better verification system for employers to use that keeps our nation secure without impeding the economic livelihood of our agricultural economy.”
McMorris questioned Dr. Philip Martin, Ph.D., a professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California-Davis, on the types of guest worker programs used in other countries. He noted that while intended to be temporary programs, migrant workers often end up staying in the country permanently.
“The intent of guest worker programs is to add workers to the labor force temporarily, but not add permanent residents to the population,” said Martin. “In almost all countries and in virtually all time periods, guest worker programs tend to become larger and to last longer than anticipated, and some of the migrant workers settle with their families.”
Dr. Martin recommended experimenting with different types of guest worker programs on a pilot basis to determine what works best and what is most effective.
Luawanna Hallstrom, Vice-President of Harry Singh and Sons, a family-owned farming operation in Oceanside, California, testified that the current guest worker (H-2A) program does not work and that an electronic verification system is needed.
“A workable agricultural guest worker program will not take the jobs from U.S. workers,” said Hallstrom. “Coupled with a workable employment verifications system it will fill agricultural jobs with legal guest workers who will replace the undocumented – not U.S. worker. We strongly believe based on history and our personal experience that a workable guest worker program will substantially reduce illegal migration of workers into agricultural jobs.”
Witnesses also expressed confusion regarding prevailing wage provisions in the Senate immigration bill that would force some employers – including small businesses – to pay guest-workers more than Americans doing the same job in the same city. The committee plans to further examine this issue at field hearings next month on illegal immigration and worker wages.