The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows are reportedly eyeing a plan to depress farmworker wages for the agricultural lobby in the midst of mass unemployment spurred by the Chinese coronavirus crisis.
A report by NPR claims USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Meadows are devising a plan to lower the wage rates currently mandated in the H-2A visa program, packaging the effort as relief for American farmers.
The plan would allow American 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 — a program with no numerical limits — into the U.S. even as nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks.
As federal data shows, American farmers do not wholly rely on H-2A foreign visa workers to take agricultural jobs. H-2A foreign visa workers make up only about ten percent of the total U.S. crop farm workforce. Last year, U.S. farmers hired roughly 250,000 H-2A foreign visa workers.
The plan also mirrors the wage depression components of Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Lofgren’s legislation would have prevented wage hikes for farmworkers via a wage freeze and wage caps.
Already, American farmers have used the H-2A visa program to reduce wages in the agricultural industry, Bureau of Labor Statistics data has shown.
In 2017, H-2A foreign visa workers picking crops were paid about two percent less than their American counterparts, while visa workers operating agricultural equipment were paid 23 percent less than the national average wage for that job. The largest wage discrepancy comes with H-2A foreign visa workers who take jobs as first-line supervisors for farming and fishing. They are paid about 95 percent less than their American counterparts.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment in time for this publication.
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.