Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asked state ag administrators at a conference in Hartford, Connecticut this week to support a new bill idling in the House of Representatives.

The Agricultural Guestworker Act, approved last October by the House Judiciary Committee in a close, partisan vote, would create a new H-2C non-immigrant visa for aliens, authorizing up to 18 months at a time for seasonal workers in the United States, but up to 36 months for year-round farmworkers, with subsequent periods of 18 months.

However, since the 115th Congress in near adjournment, and the Senate has taken no action on the matter, it is unlikely that the guest-worker bill to pass this year.

“The labor situation in agriculture is getting even tighter than it had been,” Perdue told members of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, ranking the worsening farm labor shortage with international trade and regulatory reform as his priorities for helping the farm sector.

“We need a stable, reliable legal agricultural workforce in the country,” Perdue said. He praised House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s bill to replace the seasonal H-2A farm guest-working program, saying it “addresses as much as we can address right now to give our farmers to give our farmers and agribusiness a guest worker program without having the  shadows of illegality hanging over them all the time.”

Still, despite the House immigration bill’s opposition from members of both parties.  Perdue called for support, since it would “give the secretary of agriculture an opportunity to gauge the demand for foreign farmwokers and also an escalator clause to raise the number of guest workers.” Perdue also pointed out that the proposed reform would accommodate some year-round guest workers needed in poultry, dairy, and other livestock operations, while the present H-2A “has a seasonality restriction that does not work well for year-round operators.