Fresno, California – As forecast by the Department of Labor, H-2A visa certifications are exploding according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. But that’s not news that means everything is alright for some who say the program is broken and in need of new policies to retain workers already here. Datatech has been following this story all year.
In an interview on RFDTV, AFBF Economist Veronica Nigh says H-2A workers have been steadily growing among hired workers, “240 thousand positions this year(2018), if you figure a workforce of 1.5 to 2 million hired workers, that means H2-A workers represent more than 10 percent of all hired workers on farms in the United States.”
This is over a 100 percent growth from just five years ago nationally and an over 200 percent increase for California since 2017. So is the program sound? Not really says Bryan White with the California Farm Bureau and Farm Employers Labor Service in a recent AgAlert article, “In 50 years, California agriculture may be much more heavily mechanized and capital-intensive than it is now, but that’s a long time away. It’s clear the H-2A program, with all its bureaucratic impediments, can’t fill the gap between the number of employees farmers need and the number we have.”
But what may be good for California, may not be needed for other states in the union. California has a large resident workforce and associations like the Western Growers have held the position that any immigration reform on guest workers should find a way to keep these workers here, as opposed to a ‘touchback’ proposal in the latest Agricultural Guest Worker Act.
Says LIttle, “It’s unreasonable to expect someone who’s lived here for decades to return to what amounts to a foreign country and trust they’ll be allowed to return in a realistic time and manner to their jobs, families, and communities. If we can accomplish the political feat of eliminating “touchback,” the next order of business would be the creation of an agricultural guestworker program that works for California.”
And what would that be?
“At Farm Bureau, we think the key innovation to make that politically palatable would be allowing employee “portability.” Portability means an employee who has been properly vetted and who wants to come to California should be allowed to work for any California farm employer willing to follow basic rules of fairness and decent treatment: a reasonable wage, the high level of workplace protections we already have in California, and the right for an employee to vote with his or her feet and go to work for a new employer if he or she chooses to do so.”
Nigh says there is no end in sight for the growth of the H-2A program, numbers don’t lie. It’s no secret farmers need workers and H-2A has filled the bill with all its apparent challenges for employers.
As the new Congress gets ready to be seated, we’ll see how that will impact any immigration and H2-A reform in 2019.
Since 1980, Datatech supplies agribusinesses with accounting, payroll, and human resource management software.