WASHINGTON — Oregon U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz announced he voted in favor of House of Representatives bill 1603 — the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, which passed the House with bipartisan support 247-174. The bill goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

Bentz and 29 House Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, which seeks to address the labor shortage many food and fiber producers face in Oregon’s Second Congressional District.

“As one who was raised on a cattle ranch in Harney County, I know firsthand just how much work must be done by those who work in agriculture,” Bentz said in a press release. “I have also spoken with local leaders across our district — including farmers, ranchers, orchardists and producers; business owners; trade associations; and local governments. After many conversations and careful consideration, I agreed with my constituents that our district would benefit from the reforms this bill makes to the H-2A guest worker program.”

Bentz said the reforms are important to ensure a stable and legal workforce is available to operate and raise the more than 200 crops produced in Oregon. The bill also will help guard against future illegal immigration through a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agriculture employment.

The agriculture sector has long sought the reforms the bipartisan bill provides to help streamline and reduce costs in the H-2A visa program.

The program has received criticism for being cumbersome, inefficient and slow. Still, many in the agriculture sector rely on H-2A visas to help fill gaps in their workforce, grow our economy and feed the nation, according to Bentz.

This legislation also would institute a mandatory E-Verify system for all agricultural employment — serving as a last necessary part of ensuring a legal workforce for the agriculture sector.

Bentz also reported several Pacific Northwest agriculture leaders applauded his support of the bill, which now is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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