As farmers in California and elsewhere around the country try to cope with chronic employee shortages, the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation said administrative changes to the current H-2A agricultural visa program could be one element of a solution, while Congress continues to work on broader legislation.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced plans to modernize and improve the existing H-2A agricultural visa program, which allows people from certain countries to enter the United States temporarily for on-farm jobs.
“We’re encouraged by the administration’s efforts to improve the H-2A system,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “We continue to analyze the full proposal, but our initial reading shows that it would streamline certain aspects of the program and expand it to include additional forms of agriculture, such as reforestation work.”
More California farmers have begun using the H-2A program, he said, but added that it has generally not been flexible enough for many of the state’s crops and commodities.
“When we asked Farm Bureau members earlier this year to tell us how they are addressing employee shortages, only 6% of the farmers who responded to our survey said they were using H-2A,” Johansson said. “Changes proposed by the administration may increase that proportion, but farmers also need wider improvement to immigration laws that can only be addressed through congressional action.”
Farm Bureau and other organizations continue working with members of Congress on solutions that would provide legal status to current farm employees in the U.S. while further enhancing the agricultural visa program to include a portability mechanism.
“Ultimately, immigration laws need to accommodate employees and their immediate family members who are in the country now, plus allow future employees to enter the U.S. and move from farm to farm for employment,” Johansson said. “We will continue to pursue that goal with Congress and the administration. H-2A reform is only one piece of the puzzle.”