The Bush Administration has announced dramatic changes underway to increase the number of legal agricultural workers in the United States. As the industry grapples with a chronic labor shortage, steps are being taken for the most significant overhaul in two decades of the national’s agricultural guest worker program, reported USA Today last week. The goal: to increase the number of legal foreign workers available to harvest crops.
The revised regulations — in the works for months now — would make it easier for growers to bring foreign workers to the United States. The proposed changes to alter the legal–farm worker program by relaxing requirements for the H-2A visas granted to them, “come against a backdrop of growing anger over illegal immigration and tension among presidential candidates over the issue,” reports USA Today.
The new regulations could be a boon to growers, who have consistently argued that the current program is too cumbersome and leaves them little choice to but turn to illegal immigrants. The greatest effect would be in California, the nation’s largest agricultural state. However, both lawmakers and growers caution that the state’s serious farm labor shortages can’t be solved by a simple administrative fix.
The proposed changes, which would take effect after a 45-day period of public comment, would modify how foreign laborers are paid and housed, and slightly expand the types of industries that can use the program. The administration would also ease the standards farmers must now meet to show they have tried to hire U.S. citizens first.
According to the article, more than half of the nation’s 1.2 million farm workers are in the United States illegally. Many advocates put the actual percentage closer to 70 percent.