Agriculture must be supported by federal programs that allow for their labor needs to be met. Federal policies now and in the future must recognize the unique nature of agricultural work and our international competitiveness issues that require access to a flexible workforce. NCFC strongly supports long-overdue reforms to our immigration laws in order to meet the unique needs of all segments of agriculture. NCFC will oppose any efforts to apply mandatory E-Verify without a workable, legislative solution for agriculture’s current and future workforce.
NCFC and the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) have put forward three critical components of reform that must be addressed. First, legislation must address the current workforce. With over half of agricultural workers estimated to not have proper work authority, suddenly losing the majority of agricultural workers would place significant, irreparable harm on the agricultural economy. Agricultural employers must have continued access to trained, high-skilled farm workers through work authorization status to remain working in agriculture-related jobs.
Secondly, legislation must ensure future workforce demands are met through a new program that will admit a sufficient number of willing and able workers in a timely manner.
Lastly, this visa program must have the flexibility to meet the needs of producers, including those with year-round labor needs, such as dairy and livestock. Due to the nature of dairy and livestock operations, these sectors have not been able to participate in the current H-2A program. A 2012 Texas A&M study 2012 focused on dairy found that farms using immigrant labor supply more than 2/5 of the milk in the country. Without these employees, economic output would decline by $22 billion and 133,000 workers would lose their jobs.
We cannot continue to limit farmers and rural America’s economic potential due to labor instability; therefore, Congress must act now.
Instability in the agricultural labor force has reached critical levels. Farmers face a critical shortage of legally authorized and experienced workers each year and the cumbersome H-2A visa program cannot serve as a safety net to meet the workforce demands. Farmers are left with few options in times of labor shortages, either crops have rotted in the fields or farmers have attempted to access the only program that exists to admit foreign workers in agriculture: the H-2A visa program. While workable for some in the industry, the H-2A program’s inflexibility and bureaucracy make it very difficult to access and utilize for most of agriculture. In addition, current program interpretation on seasonal work prohibits its utilization for many segments of agriculture, including dairy and livestock.
The shortage of agricultural labor negatively impacts our economic competitiveness, local economies, and jobs. In fact, every farm worker engaged in high-value labor intensive crop and livestock production sustains two to three off-farm but farm dependent jobs. The activities that occur on domestic farms support not only farmworkers, but also an entire supply chain of transportation providers, input suppliers, processors and consumer retail functions.
Several Members of Congress have introduced legislation addressing various components of reforming the current H-2A program or the current workforce. NCFC applauds members for recognizing the need for reform and willingness to lead on the issue. However, the bills introduced so far have not addressed all of the components needed to gain support from the agricultural community at large.
With increased enforcement actions and Congress soon turning to immigration enforcement-related legislation, we must work together to ensure agriculture is considered during this debate. When mandatory e-verify proposals and other enforcement-only approaches are considered by Congress, we must demand an agriculture workforce related bill that incorporates the functions outlined below are moved in conjunction with the enforcement legislation. Without these tied together, agriculture will not be able to support the enforcement related bills.