Big business and Big Agriculture is complaining of labor shortages and high wages while the Chinese coronavirus crisis has spurred mass unemployment with at least 22 million Americans out of work.
While unemployment among Americans climbs to record levels, with now at least 22 million out of work in the last four weeks, employers who hire H-2A and H-2B foreign visa workers continue to complain that the United States is facing a labor shortage and that wages are too high.
Executives with the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the leading cheap labor lobbying organizations, are backing a reported plan to federally lower wage rates for imported H-2A foreign visa workers that are brought into the U.S. to work on farms:
Paul Schlegel, vice president of public affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said it’s important to address the [Adverse Effect Wage Rate] at a time when labor-intensive produce farms have lost much of their markets due to COVID-19. [Emphasis added]
“The closing of restaurants, hotels and tourism is forcing farmers to plow under their fields to cut their losses,” Schlegel said. “Asking farmers to pay artificially high wages at a time when their own income has largely evaporated due to the COVID-19 pandemic is not right.” [Emphasis added]
The plan under consideration by the Agriculture Department would allow farmers to pay H-2A foreign visa workers wages below existing rates. The wage reduction policy would be coupled with the State Department’s fast-tracking of H-2A foreign visa workers into the U.S.
American Farm Bureau Federation executives praised the Agriculture Department for issuing visa waivers to more readily fast-track H-2A foreign visa workers, calling it “critically important.”
As federal data shows, H-2A foreign visa workers make up only about ten percent of the total U.S. crop farm workforce and the program is already used by farmers to pay imported foreign workers less than their American counterparts.
The H-2A visa program has no numerical limit. Last year, U.S. farmers hired roughly 250,000 H-2A foreign visa workers.
Gaston Marquevich, the CEO of Generation Farms — one of the largest crop growers of carrots and sweet onions on the East Coast — told TheStreet.com that his corporation has successfully imported foreign workers in the middle of the crisis:
Yeah, I think there is an issue, of course. There are many issues. One of the issues is a labor shortage. So, we started to work a conversation a month ago. So, but yeah, right in time when this COVID-19 came to us. So we normally use, in between Florida and Georgia, we normally use 1,200 employees as labor. So, we applied to the aid program. So normally, the program takes three months, and the last two or three year was taking like six months because all of this and then changes on the immigration policies, rules. [Emphasis added]
So we’ve been very, very stressed about getting all the employees in place to allow us to pick up the crop from the ground. So we connect, a month ago, we contact the USDA team, the team that works with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and they basically have been very flexible, very cooperative with us, and they count on the USCIS in California. So in California, they contact the U.S. embassy in Monterey and finally we get 500 employees in Florida and 450 in Georgia. So we don’t have the 1,200 that normally we use, but we are okay with it the 950 right now. [Emphasis added]
On April 6, USA Today published the grievances of a local California agriculture reporter who argued that farmers are struggling “to find workers” despite mass unemployment:
A crippling labor shortage has affected nearly every corner of California agriculture. Increased competition for workers continues as wine grape growers lose labor to commercial cannabis growers — who can offer higher wages, stable employment and better working conditions because of how lucrative the crop is. [Emphasis added]
These complaints have also been echoed by the employers of H-2B foreign visa workers, whereby more than 66,000 foreign nationals are imported every year to take seasonal, nonagricultural jobs. The State Department, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, is allowing employers to fast-track these foreign workers by waiving certain visa requirements.
Still, big business has claimed they are struggling to hire folks to take jobs. In a Bloomberg News report, an attorney for H-2B visa employers said that while millions are out of work, his clients still need imported foreign labor:
The holding pattern “shows the lack of understanding the government has of how the H-2B program is essential to the economy,” said Jeff Joseph, an attorney with Joseph & Hall in Aurora, Colo., who represents companies that employ H-2B workers. Some industries are operating as usual “regardless of the pandemic,” he said, and need workers going into the summer and fall. [Emphasis added]
“Without clear, transparent information from the government on how long this shutdown is going to last, those people still need the workers,” he said, adding that his clients that employ H-2B workers—including resorts, landscaping companies, and outdoor-adventure operators—haven’t been laying off workers. [Emphasis addd]
Less than a month ago, Maryland seafood processors complained that they needed more H-2B foreign visa workers even after Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf promised businesses an additional 35,000 foreign workers to hire:
Jack Brooks, co-owner of J.M. Clayton Seafood Co. in Cambridge, and president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, said he expects a worker shortfall, despite the government’s action. [Emphasis added]
Initially, the Department of Homeland Security doled out 33,000 work visas, which are in effect for six months beginning April 1. With the added 35,000 visas, the total still falls well short of the 100,000 slots that U.S. employers nationally had sought to fill. [Emphasis added]
While big business and Big Agriculture ask for more foreign workers, a number of leading conservative voices have asked President Trump’s administration to pause immigration to the U.S. — a plan supported by nearly 80 percent of Americans, according to the latest Ipsos poll.
Former Sen. Jeff Sessions and Laura Ingraham have said the nation’s unemployment totals should be eased by stopping increased labor market competition against unemployed Americans via legal immigration.
Such a pause to immigration would come after four decades of the U.S. admitting 525,000 to 1.8 million legal immigrants annually. The U.S., at current legal immigration levels, admits more legal immigrants than any other country in the world and has done so for more than two decades.
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.