Farm Bureau: Seasonal Migrant Workers Exempt from Ban

Wednesday, April 22nd 2020, 5:05 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, April 23rd 2020, 9:13 AM EDTBy Wes Mills, Content Manager

Indiana melon growers often hire seasonal, migrant workers to harvest the crop. (photo courtesy: Indiana Farm Bureau)

INDIANAPOLIS - Despite concerns that President Trump’s plan to suspend immigration for 60 days into the U.S. would hurt American farmers who rely on migrant workers to harvest crops, it appears the directive will not apply to foreign farm workers. That is good news to Hoosier farmers who rely on workers, especially seasonal workers, from other countries, according to the Indiana Farm Bureau.

The Farm Bureau has received information from the White House that the temporary immigration ban excludes the federal H-2A visa program.

“We have a lot of H-2A workers in Indiana,” said Bob White, director of national government relations for the Indiana Farm Bureau. “We have a lot of melon growers in southwest Indiana,” White says those growers rely on the program to get workers to handpick the crop.

President Trump said his 60-day executive order would apply only to people seeking green cards, permanent residence, and will not affect workers entering the country on a temporary basis.

An ongoing labor shortage has led to the agriculture industry increasingly relying on the H-2A guest worker program to fill empty jobs on farming operations.

Last month, the administration and Mexican officials discussed an agreement to halt nonessential travel across their shared border.

“About four weeks ago there was coronary heart failure among a lot of people who use H-2A folks because they closed the Mexican border and consulates,” said White.

White said after a series of quick conversations between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of State, and the White House, the border was reopened.

The talks resulted in a temporary streamlined process for farmers.

“If you (migrant workers) didn’t need new clearance to get in. If you were here last year and went home, you do not need an interview to get back in,” explained White.

Despite the easing of restrictions, White said many farmers who grow labor-intensive crops, like apples or melons, are worried about having enough workers in the months ahead.

“We’re looking at harvest now. Are you going to have enough? Let’s make sure you start getting into the pipeline,” said White.

Beyond the immediate concern, White said what needs to happen now is a complete review and assessment of farmworker programs, as they pertain to the broader immigration reform debate.

“There was a bill that passed the House last year, but it’s sitting over in the Senate right now. But with everything else going on right now, it probably won’t get any legs.”

White said the H-2A program and the E-verify program, which is a federal, online system to determine authorization to work in this country, get mixed in with legislative efforts to reform immigration laws.

“It’s always been our theory that if you take this one piece at a time, you might be able to get something done,” White said. “But if you look at the whole immigration reform issue and try to put something together that is comprehensive, it’s not going to get done because it’s too partisan of an issue.”

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Indiana Farm Bureau Director of National Government Relations Bob White explains Indiana farmer's reliance on the guestworker program.