Farm and restaurant interest groups push immigration reform as labor supply solution

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 6:16 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Two different interest groups advocated on Thursday for the United States Senate to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would make a number of different changes to the country’s immigration policy.

Both pushed the legislation as a potential boost to the state’s labor supply since state data shows the number of people trying to collect unemployment benefits is smaller than the number of job openings.

John Maxwell, who owns Cinnamon Ridge Dairy Farm in Scott County, said he is consistently looking for employees because he has trouble keeping employees. He said the reason is most can’t get the immigration paperwork needed to work legally and has to consistently train new workers.

“We’re having to sacrifice,” Maxwell said. “This didn’t get done today because we didn’t have enough employees to do it.”

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, according to the congressional research service, would create a new visa program called a certified agricultural worker program. It would allow agricultural workers, who either worked 1,035 hours during two years before March 2021, to work in the United States for five and a half years.

The bill also would also require the United States Department of Homeland Security to make a number of changes to the H-2A visa program including creating an electronic platform and other requirements.

Democrats along with 30 Republicans passed the legislation through the House of Representatives. However, the bill hasn’t received a vote in the Senate yet.

Jessica Dunker, who is the president and CEO for the Iowa Restaurant Association, said the immigration issue would also help restaurants hire more employees. She said the bill would also help increase the labor supply across all other industries.

“This is an agricultural issue, it’s a production issue, it’s a manufacturing issue, it’s a food production issue of our own, it’s a hospitality issue,” Dunker said.