The House Judiciary Committee voted 17-16 Wednesday to advance committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) “Agricultural Guestworker Act” to a full chamber floor vote. All committee Democrats and two committee Republicans, Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA), voted against the bill. Five Republicans did not vote.

The bill, known as H.R. 4092, addresses labor shortages in the agricultural sector by creating a new agricultural guestworker program, the H-2C guestworker program. The program would make 450,000 new temporary visas available each year to bring in year-round agricultural employers, 40,000 of which would be set aside for meat and poultry processing. Returning H-2A workers and previously unauthorized farmworkers who participate legally in the new program won’t count toward the annual visa limit.

It would allow current undocumented agricultural workers to join the H-2C program, allow such guestworkers to stay in country for up to three years and a provision to withhold ten percent of a guestworker’s income until one “touches back” in their home country, where they would be allowed to retrieve the withheld ten percent at the U.S. consulate in their home country. Such a provision is meant to enforce compliance with the three-year length of stay provided in the program.

The H-2C program, which would be overseen by USDA, would replace the existing H-2A temporary visa program, overseen by the Department of Labor. Unlike the H-2A program, the H-2C program would not provide workers free housing and transportation.  Each H-2C worker would have to have health insurance coverage. Employers would have to pay H-2C workers in the meat processing sector not less than the state or local minimum wage, 150 percent of the federal minimum wage, or the actual wage earned by other workers in the same job, whichever is greatest. Green cards will not be set aside for experienced agricultural workers. The Department of Homeland Security’s responsibilities under the H-2A program remain with the department. The program would become officially enacted within six months of the President’s signature, should he do so.

Nineteen amendments were offered in the two-day markup, four of which passed. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) offered an amendment to exempt higher-skilled and higher-experienced meat and poultry processing workers from the program. Thus, only entry-level meat and poultry processing guestworkers would be eligible to apply for H-2C status. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) offered an amendment to require that the bill’s enactment be contingent upon Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) Legal Workforce Act, which the committee also passed by a 20-10 vote Wednesday. The bill would require the use of E-Verify instead of the current I-9 paper-based filing system to determine legal immigration status. Both amendments passed.