Tillis leads bill to set a more beneficial wage rate for H-2A non-immigrant farm workers

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) on Feb. 29 proposed legislation that would help create a wage standard for non-immigrant workers that benefits farmers and employees while ensuring America’s farms stay afloat.

The Supporting Farm Operations Act of 2024, S. 3848, which Sen. Tillis sponsored alongside 16 Republican original cosponsors, would revert the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) applicable to H-2A non-immigrants to the December 2023 rate through the end of the 2025 growing season, according to a bill summary provided by the senator’s staff.

“With net farm income projected to decrease by more than 25 percent this year, farmers in North Carolina and across the country are struggling to make their planting decisions for this crop season,” Sen. Tillis said. “The H-2A program has long been an option of last resort for farmers to hire legal and reliable workers to plant, grow, and harvest their crops; however, the wage rate farmers are required to pay by bureaucrats in Washington has become unsustainable.” 

The H-2A visa program allows agricultural employers to bring a limited number of foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary seasonal farm jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) yearly sets the AEWR to prevent adverse effects on employment opportunities for U.S. workers. 

According to Republicans, higher AEWR wage mandates could further increase production costs for producers who employ H-2A guest workers. Under the H-2A visa program, agricultural employers also must pay the administrative costs of hiring H-2A laborers, as well as their daily transportation and housing expenses, according to DOL.

S. 3848, which includes original cosponsors U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Mike Rounds (R-SD), would freeze the existing AEWR rate applicable to H-2A non-immigrants through Dec. 31, 2025, according to the bill’s text. 

Numerous national groups and North Carolina entities endorsed S. 3848, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the North Carolina Farm Bureau, the North Carolina Agribusiness Council, the U.S. Tobacco Cooperative, the New England Farmers Union, the InternationalFresh Produce Association, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. 

The bill has been referred for consideration to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.