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Agricultural Work Visas Soar As Farmers Struggle With Labor Shortages Amid Immigration Crackdown

Ask any farmer in California what keeps them up at night and we would guess that nearly all of them would list 'labor shortages' and 'water access' as their top two concerns.  Ironically, despite over 90 million American citizens choosing to sit out of the labor force and California having one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country, farmers in the Golden State struggle every year to find enough labor to keep fruits and vegetables from literally rotting on the vine.

Meanwhile, as the new administration promises to crack down on illegal immigrants, farmers are feeling the labor shortages in 2017 more than ever.  As the Wall Street Journal notes today, many farmers have turned to the H-2A agricultural visa program to recruit temporary workers from Mexico but the process is generally described as "bureaucratic, costly and time-consuming."

In the first nine months of fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, the U.S. Labor Department certified more than 160,000 temporary workers—the bulk of them from Mexico—to harvest berries, tobacco and other crops in the U.S. under the H-2A agricultural visa program. That was up 20% from the period a year earlier.


The annual issuance of H-2A visas nearly doubled from 85,248 in fiscal 2012 to 165,741 in 2016. The U.S. doesn’t cap the number of these visas.


Outside of agriculture, use of another type of seasonal-work visa also has surged in response to increased U.S. demand for unskilled laborers such as hotel housekeepers. The Department of Homeland Security in July raised the annual cap on H-2B visas by more than 20% to 81,000. The majority of workers receiving this type of visa also are from Mexico.


But, despite its flaws, farmers say that any efforts to further curtail temporary agricultural visas would only result in more product losses for farmers and higher grocery bills for American consumers.

American farmers for several years have voiced concerns about labor shortages, often paired with complaints about the H-2A visa program, which many see as overly bureaucratic, costly and time-consuming. The program requires employers to pay for food, housing and transportation for seasonal guest workers. Still, most farmers say the program is crucial to the U.S. agricultural industry.


“It’s extremely burdensome,” but cutting the program would “bring the industry to its knees” because there aren’t enough U.S.-born farmworkers, said Steve Scaroni, owner of large-scale farms in several states and founder of Fresh Harvest, one of the largest recruiters of H-2A workers in the U.S. “Within a week there wouldn’t be salad in the store” if the program was canceled, he said.


In 2015, farmers in California’s Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, which grow roughly 30% of the strawberries in the U.S., reported $13 million in losses because they lacked enough labor to harvest their crops in a timely manner.


Last year, vegetable farmers in the two counties reported they had 22% fewer workers than needed on average, while berry farmers put the worker shortage at 26%, according to a survey conducted by a local growers association.

Of course, as we've pointed out numerous times before, America doesn't really have a "labor shortage" at all, but rather, a massive skills and/or motivation gap resulting from decades of American youth being indoctrinated with the notion that focusing on obtaining a skills-based trade job, rather than going to college, was somehow demeaning, racist and/or misogynistic. 

You know, because throwing 10's of thousands of dollars at millions of high school kids who will use their taxpayer-subsidized student loans for hedonistic, binge-drinking spring break trips to Cancun, all while 'earning' a 1.5 GPA in anthropology from a state school and then returning to mom's basement with no job after graduation, is just so much more enlightened and progressive.

Meanwhile, the cost of that progressivism is an economy that has ~95 million people who have voluntarily taken themselves out of the labor force, many because they simply don't possess the right skills or are unwilling to take jobs that they've been convinced are 'demeaning.'


For those who still aren't convinced....perhaps you have another explanation for why over 30% of the ~75 million 18-34 year olds in this country (roughly 22.5 million people) are currently living at home with mom and dad while everyone from homebuilders to farmers are struggling to find workers?


Of course, in the end, labor restrictions and soaring minimum wages will simply result in more of America's food production being outsourced to Mexico and South America.  That said, something tells us that the progressives in California who jammed through their $15 minimum wage and essentially made it impossible to farm fresh fruits and vegetables in their state are not going to be all that happy when they learn about Mexico's environmental regulations, or lack thereof, on food production.