In recent years, guest workers have been increasingly important for growers in a number of states including California and Washington.

Between 2011 and 2017, California’s group of H-2A foreign laborers grew from around 2,000 to more than 12,000.

Around the nation, the number grew from 79,000 to 200,000 in the same period, as you can see in the chart above.

Despite the growth in the program, it’s no breeze for growers to use--they must advertise jobs in multiple states, provide transportation, housing, and food preparation or catering to workers, and local communities sometimes protest the presence of visiting workers.

Now help may be on the way, as cabinet heads including Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue vowed this week to overhaul the program.

“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.

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.

In addition, by improving the H-2A visa program and substantially reducing its complexity, the Administration also plans to incentivize farmers’ use of the E-Verify program to ensure their workforce is authorized to work in the United States.”

A competing announcement a few hours later came from Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who vowed to improve the H-2A program with a permanent legislative fix.

“The current H-2A program does not meet the needs of our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” said the release from Goodlatte. “It is expensive, flawed, plagued with red tape, and isn’t available to farms that require year-round labor. A permanent legislative solution is needed to address the farm labor crisis. That is why I have introduced legislation to permanently replace the outdated H-2A program with a reliable, efficient, and fair program, ensuring that farmers and ranchers will have access to a legal, stable supply of workers for seasonal as well as year-round work.”

The Ceres Imaging blog will continue to cover labor issues in agriculture. It’s an issue close to the mission of Ceres Imaging, which saves growers time with scouting, irrigation trouble-shooting, and other labor-intensive farm tasks.

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