BY EMILY CADEI June 15, 2018 12:01 AM, McClatchy DC
The Trump administration is moving ahead with an overhaul of the guest worker program that admits hundreds of thousands of temporary farm workers each year, easing access to agricultural labor even as even as its conservative allies push for a crackdown.
Changing the H-2A visa system for temporary farm workers has been a top priority for Central Valley growers and others around the country, who have been struggling with a severe labor shortage. A 2017 California Farm Bureau Federation survey reported that more than half of farmers experienced labor shortages last summer. The guest worker issue has split the Republican party, however, becoming a major stumbling block in House Republicans’ efforts to reach a deal on an immigration bill.
With a breakthrough in Congress unlikely, the agricultural industry is pinning its hopes on the executive branch to make changes. The regulatory process has just begun, but all indications suggest the Trump administration will put forward a more farm-friendly proposal than what’s been proposed by immigration hardliners in the House.
In a May 24 statement, the secretaries of Agriculture, Labor, State and Homeland Security announced they “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.” The goal, according to those who have discussed the issue with government officials, is to issue a proposed rule in the coming months, followed by a comment period, with the regulation finalized by 2020.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has been particularly outspoken about the need to overhaul the visa system, with farmers’ priorities in mind. “The current H-2A is cumbersome, convoluted and does not work for many producers,” Perdue said at the department’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum in February. He also boasted at the event that he had “poached” a former American Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist to work on the immigration issue “full time.”