packers

Meatpackers could hire employees through an agricultural guest worker program for the first time under a visa program proposed by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee chairman on Friday.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who oversees the legal code, said he would examine the immigration system issue by issue “to ensure we get immigration reform right.” The Senate is working on a comprehensive reform bill that includes a separate path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers.

The agricultural guest worker program proposed by Goodlatte would be a replacement for the H-2A program, which critics say is slow and overly bureaucratic. The new program would allow up to 500,000 workers a year to enter the country for jobs with an initial span of three years. It does not offer a permanent legal status for illegal immigrants.

A Goodlatte aide said the question of “how to bring the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows” would be addressed separately.

The United Farm Workers union said Goodlatte’s plan would slash wages and benefits for workers and deny the opportunity of legal status.

In a statement, Goodlatte said his plan “is good for those seeking a better life for their families by providing opportunities to earn a living while temporarily working in agricultural jobs U.S. citizens are not willing to do.”