The call for immigration reform is being made again (or, still) as many producers find they are increasingly unable to provide the work force—a work force which comes predominantly from Mexico—needed to harvest their crops. A recent article by Carol Lawrence examines some of the economic and policy issues responsible for creating a shortage of foreign workers. (http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/farm-workers/farm-workers).
According to a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center, the difficulty in locating foreign workers is the result of a number of factors, including fewer U.S. agricultural jobs, stricter border enforcement, more dangerous border crossings, lower birthrates in Mexico, and an improving Mexican economy. These factors are leading to dire consequences in some agricultural sectors. In Ventura County, California, which is the focus of Ms. Lawrence’s article, the shrinking labor force has hampered employers’ abilities to harvest some of the most valuable crops in the state, including avocados, strawberries, lemons, and oranges. As a result, some producers are faced with having to switch to growing crops which do not depend as much on manual labor, or getting out of the industry altogether.
One focus of the labor shortage is federal immigration policy, and specifically, the government’s program relating to guest farm workers. Under the H-2A program, employers can petition to bring foreign workers from certain countries to the U.S. to work in temporary agricultural jobs, generally for a period of one to three years. Eligibility under this program depends on several requirements: (1) the job must be temporary or seasonal; (2) the employer must show there are insufficient U.S. workers to do the work; (3) the employer must show that the hiring of H-2A workers will not negatively impact similarly-situated U.S. workers; and (4) the employer must obtain a valid certification from the Department of Labor. An employer wishing to bring foreign agricultural workers to the U.S. must file a labor certification application with the Department of Labor, and a Form I-129 with the USCIS, on behalf of the proposed non-immigrant worker. Once the worker is here, the employer is required to meet stringent standards relating to wages, housing, transportation, insurance, and other matters.
Some critics allege that the current H-2A program is “cumbersome and ineffective” at best, or unworkable at worst. A survey of producers participating in the H-2A program showed that almost 50% of those asked were either not satisfied or minimally satisfied with the program. Proponents of a revised H-2A program envision a foreign worker program that is simpler, less expensive, and less strict. U.S. Representative Elton Gallegly of California has suggested developing a guest worker program that would require foreign agricultural workers to periodically return to their home country for a period of time before they are allowed back to the U.S. Such a program, which would likely still include minimum standards relating to housing and health care conditions, would not include a path towards permanent citizenship and would only be open to workers who have not committed crimes.
For now, producers hoping to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to harvest their crops will need to continue participating in the H-2A program—at least until these and/or other proposals aimed at reforming the current agricultural immigration policy become reality.
This blog was authored by Stacy Morris, a partner at Lamson, Dugan and Murray, LLP.
Stacy Morris is a member of the Firm’s Litigation Department. Mr. Morris practices in both State and Federal Courts in Nebraska and State Court in Iowa and the U. S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa. Mr. Morris specializes in immigration law and is proficient in Spanish