Fresno, California – Updated 5.24.18 4:18 P.M.: With the news that the Trump Administration has committed to modernizing the H-2A program, that Datatech has reported below, Western Growers Association’s Tom Nassif has reacted to the news with optimism. Late Thursday Nassif said, “Any effort to simplify and streamline the federal government’s visa program for agricultural foreign workers – the H-2A program – will be welcomed by our members.”
He went on to say, “While we do not know what the end result will be of the process that begins today, we are hopeful it will enable greater utilization of the H-2A program by the fresh produce industry. We would hope this process will lead to changes in several areas of the existing program, including changes that would accomplish the following:
- modernize and reduce unnecessary cost of recruitment methods;
- improve the scope and accuracy of prevailing wage surveys;
- simplify the application process;
- incorporate greater flexibility for movement of workers to respond to production needs;
- clarify interpretations of seasonality; and
- streamline the approval process for housing and transportation”
Nassif is concerned about any mandate to use E-Verify saying, “Changes to H-2A should be made to improve the system for the use of all, and any implication that necessary reforms would be limited to those that use E-Verify is concerning.”
Datatech will continue to follow this story.
Originally reported Thursday at 5.24.18 11:55 A.M.: Datatech has received a joint statement from Trump Administration Cabinet members promising a modernized H-2A temporary agricultural visa program. This as the House Members continue to debate a new Immigration Bill (H.R.4760), the Agricultural Guest Worker Act, known as the ‘Ag Act’ (that suspiciously has no H.R. designation now) that would create a new H-2C program and increase guestworker visas to ease the ag labor crisis and the Farm Bill (H.R. 2)!
In the joint statement, Cabinet Members Secretary Acosta of Labor, Secretary Perdue of Agriculture, Secretary Nielsen of Homeland Security and Secretary Pompeo of State said, “Our Departments are working in coordination to propose streamlining, simplifying, and improving the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program – reducing cumbersome bureaucracy and ensuring adequate protections for U.S. workers.”
While many in agribusiness lament that the H-2A program is “broken”, these Cabinet Members say, “The Trump Administration is committed to modernizing the H-2A visa program rules in a way that is responsive to stakeholder concerns and that deepens our confidence in the program as a source of legal and verified labor for agriculture – while also reinforcing the program’s strong employment and wage protections for the American workforce.”
Their hope is to simplify the system and provide incentives to farmers for use of the E-Verify program to ensure workers are authorized to work in the United States. The joint statement concludes with their commitment to quote, “clarify and improve the regulations governing the program and hope to deliver a more responsive program soon.”
You may recall that Datatech has covered Representative Goodlatte (R-VA) sponsored bill known as the ‘Ag Act’ which Goodlatte says, ” Replaces the flawed H-2A program with a new, flexible, and market-driven guestworker program that is designed to meet the needs of the diverse agriculture industry when not enough American workers can be found. The new program is to be operated by the USDA, an agency that clearly understands the unique needs of America’s farm and ranch operations and the importance of getting perishable agricultural commodities to the marketplace in an efficient manner, and expands the guest worker program to year-round agricultural employers.”
So what happened to the ‘Ag Act’ that has no ‘H.R.’ designation now? It would seem according to analysts that with the Farm Bill being voted down in the House last week and a new vote date being negotiated now and the conservative faction of the Republican Party known as the ‘Freedom Caucus” holding up the House for a vote on the Goodlatte sponsored Securing America’s Future’s Act (HR 4760) which includes stronger immigration language and solutions for the DACA controversy, the ‘Ag Act’ has been tabled for now. The ‘Ag Act’ met resistance from some members of the Ag community saying that it didn’t go far enough to alleviate the farm labor shortage by not providing enough visas annually.
So in comes the joint statement from the Trump Administration Secretaries saying they will, “Deliver a more responsive H-2A program soon.” It’s a merry go round to make everyone happy, but in the end, it’s as the late Barbara Bush once said, “I hate the fact that people think ‘compromise’ is a dirty word.”