May 24, 2018
Cabinet members issue statement on H-2A visa modernization

U.S. Secretary of Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaHomeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the following statement May 24 regarding attempts to modernize the H-2A Agricultural Worker Visa program:

“When President Trump addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation in January of this year, he reminded the audience that his commitment to our farmers has been clear since the day his administration began: “From that day on, we have been working every day to deliver for America’s farmers just as they work every single day to deliver for us.”

“In keeping with that commitment, 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.

As the agencies tasked with administering or facilitating the H-2A visa program, and thus closest to farmer and labor stakeholders, the Departments of State, Agriculture, Labor, and Homeland Security are embarking on a process to modernize the H-2A visa program by clarifying and improving the regulations governing the program. We look forward to delivering a more responsive program soon.”

Ag interests respond

Michael Marsh, President and CEO, of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, issued the following statement:

“Today, on behalf of the members of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, we applaud the Administration’s bold commitment to modernize the H-2A agricultural worker visa.

We want to thank Secretary Perdue, Secretary Acosta, Secretary Nielsen and Secretary Pompeo for their leadership in recognizing that America’s national security is inextricably linked to America’s food security and that evolving the H-2A agricultural worker visa is imperative to that security.  NCAE is appreciative of the hard work that has occurred within these agencies to arrive at the announcement made today in Washington.

NCAE, with grassroots input from our members, is committed to working with the Secretaries and their agencies to modernize the H-2A visa program rules in a manner responsive to our member concerns, enhancing the program as a source of legal and verified labor for agriculture.

Today’s announcement is an exciting opportunity for the members of NCAE to shape the future structure of this critical visa program.”

Statement of Tom Stenzel, president and CEO, United Fresh Produce Association in reaction to the commitment made by the Trump Administration, and Departments of State, Agriculture, Labor, and Homeland Security to modernizing the H-2A visa program:

“United Fresh is pleased with today’s announcement by the Trump Administration and the Departments of State, Agriculture, Labor, and Homeland Security, regarding their commitment to address the critical challenges of the existing bureaucratic temporary agricultural labor programs. We look forward to continuing our work with the Administration to meet our industry’s need for adequate labor. The fruit and vegetable industry is highly dependent on our workforce in order to sustain and grow our industry to meet increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables.

United Fresh has been in constant dialogue with Congress, the Administration and other stakeholders to convey that the fruit and vegetable industry needs a streamlined solution to our critical labor issues. We will continue to work to drive improvements to our current labor challenges through both legislation and regulatory solutions, with the goal of creating the best possible outcome for the fresh produce industry.”

Western Growers‘ President and CEO Tom Nassif issued the following statement:

“Any effort to simplify and streamline the federal government’s visa program for agricultural foreign workers – the H-2A program – will be welcomed by our members.

“While we do not know what the end result will be of the process that begins today, we are hopeful it will enable greater utilization of the H-2A program by the fresh produce industry. We would hope this process will lead to changes in several areas of the existing program, including changes that would accomplish the following:

  • modernize and reduce unnecessary cost of recruitment methods;
  • improve the scope and accuracy of prevailing wage surveys;
  • simplify the application process;
  • incorporate greater flexibility for movement of workers to respond to production needs;
  • clarify interpretations of seasonality; and

streamline the approval process for housing and transportation.

“While this effort to implement administrative changes are most welcome, key aspects of the H-2A program can only be modified by statute. We have grown accustomed to fluctuations in the program’s processes with each administration. Indeed, administrative improvements undertaken by one administration can be, and are, undone by the next, as was done by the prior administration.

“Though we do support changes to the H-2A program to make the process more efficient, we are concerned with the suggestion that E-Verify would be a part of this proposal. Changes to H-2A should be made to improve the system for the use of all, and any implication that necessary reforms would be limited to those that use E-Verify is concerning.

“This is why we continue to call on Congress to enact immigration reform legislation that provides a workable path to legalization for our existing workforce and creates a new guest worker visa program to ensure ready access to an adequate supply of labor in the future. Only then can America’s fresh produce farmers plan for long-term sustainability.”

UnitedAg said it is “pleased to see the announcement that the Trump Administration plans to undertake a rule-making process to help streamline the admission of H2-A workers and ease the burdens on our growers who use this program. United Ag applauds Secretary Perdue for his leadership on this critical issue.

UnitedAg has been active on behalf of its members highlighting the challenges of the current H2A program to Administration officials and has been asked to participate in the dialogue and development of revised regulations. The organization strongly supports improvements to the H2-A process and believes these initiatives will benefit the agricultural industry and provide access to a legal workforce.

As beneficial as these regulatory changes could be to the agricultural employer, UnitedAg continues to believe that more permanent solutions to the agricultural labor challenges can only be achieved through legislation. United Ag encourages Congress to pass legislation addressing our labor issues and reiterates that any legislation that includes mandatory e-verify provisions must also include a viable solution for both agriculture’s current and future workforce needs. United Ag appreciates Chairman Goodlatte’s recognition of that and continues to work to improve the viability of his bill’s provisions.

“At the end of the day it’s about protecting our employees and their families. UnitedAg is thankful for the support this announcement indicates and looks forward to continuing to work with the Administration and Congress to achieve a solution together,” said UnitedAg President & CEO Kirti Mutatkar.

Founded in 1980, UnitedAg is a member-owned agricultural trade association dedicated to providing innovative solutions for a strong and healthy agricultural industry.

AmericanHort “enthusiastically welcomed the announcement by four Cabinet secretaries – Perdue (Agriculture), Acosta (Labor), Nielsen (Homeland Security) and Pompeo (State) – of a new administrative initiative to streamline and improve the H-2A agricultural visa program. H-2A is the only labor safety net currently available to most agricultural employers. AmericanHort has been actively encouraging such an initiative since President Trump welcomed 15 farmers to the White House just over one year ago.”

“…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 Cabinet secretaries’ statement said.

“The announcement signals the initiation of a process that will take some time. AmericanHort is hopeful that program improvements will be in place by or before the 2020 growing season.

“H-2A is fast growing in its importance to nursery and greenhouse growers as labor challenges are only getting worse,” said Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort senior vice president for industry advocacy and research. “A reliable program is what Congress intended, so this is good news. If successful, the results of the initiative will help our members succeed and grow,” he added.

There are limits on what can be achieved administratively. “Some needed visa program and current workforce reforms can only be accomplished through statutory changes that are up to Congress,” Regelbrugge emphasized. “Still, quite a bit of good can come from the initiative that the Secretaries have just announced. In that light, it deserves the horticulture industry’s support and constructive engagement.”

Gary Pullano, Managing Editor





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