From FarmWeekNow.com, Martin Ross, 12 Jun 2011.
Workable ag visa program important to agriculture
Even with widespread domestic unemployment, Livingston County pork producer Mike Haag finds it difficult to find local workers willing to work on his farm.
After nearly a decade of mounting labor challenges and policy frustrations, Haag wants Congress to find some middle ground on immigration issues.
The Illinois Pork Producers Association president notes the growing hardship faced by various ag sectors as a result of an increasingly unworkable H-2A ag worker visa program.
An American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) analysis concludes $5 billon to $9 billion in annual U.S. production is at risk if a current farm labor shortage is not addressed.
“We’ve been getting people through the H2A program for probably 10 years,” Haag told FarmWeek. “Every year, it gets tougher and tougher to get (guest workers) in, and there are more regulations and stipulations put on (visas).
“And it’s not just on the farm,” he said, adding that hotels, restaurants, and processing plants have similar problems.
AFBF favors H-2A reforms that allow employers to pay workers a “market-based” wage; accommodate “the needs of modern agriculture,” including year-round operations; and make the program “more responsive and timely to employers’ and workers’ needs, while diminishing its propensity to be a magnet for costly and unnecessary litigation.”
Producers fear employer liability would only increase under “E-Verify” worker verification requirements expected soon from the House Judiciary Committee.
AFBF suggests use of the Internet-based system, which compares data from worker employment eligibility verification forms with federal Homeland Security-Social Security records, likely would boost identify theft not detectable by E-Verify.
Immigration debate reignited after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s strict 2007 immigration law in May. That law, which mandates employer E-Verify use, “falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the states,” Chief Justice John Roberts ruled.
AFBF regulatory specialist Paul Schlegel told FarmWeek the ruling leaves the door open for states to determine policies that suit their needs. Georgia is requiring E-Verify use by employers with 11 or more workers.
In Florida, “where agriculture is big and labor is big,” lawmakers declined to act on similar crackdown measures, Schlegel noted.
While the Supreme Court decision poses some “tricky” issues for the House Judiciary Committee, he sees the House eventually passing a mandatory E-Verify bill. Schlegel nonetheless stressed Congress’ need to couple any compliance measures with “some provisions to get us legal labor.”
AFBF opposes blanket amnesty for undocumented workers but supports providing an opportunity for some existing temporary ag workers to “adjust to legal status.” Haag argues seasonal farm workers “don’t want to be here illegally.”
“They just want an opportunity, and the opportunity’s here,” the producer said.