Farmers are lobbying for immigration reform amidst a labor shortage crisis and escalating food prices. Is the migrant workforce the answer?
Agricultural companies and farmers across the country are joining to push for a nationwide immigration reform that could help grow the migrant workforce and allow essential workers to become citizens. Amidst a labor shortage and food prices crisis, immigration reform becomes more important than ever.
Many farm operators claim the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, already passed by the House and still pending approval in the Senate, will provide them with a reliable workforce. This legislation will create a path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers and will completely reform the seasonal farmworker visa program, among other changes.
For migrant workers, this could mean a big opportunity to work and live in the United States, while also being closer to an eventual pathway to citizenship, something that is being considered in the bill. Until now, all migrant temporary workers had to rely on the H-2A program, that only allows short stays in the country.
A labor shortage signals an impending crisis in the farm industry
While the current labor shortage is nothing new, it certainly has been aggravated by the pandemic, resulting in rising prices and food costs. Prices have risen around 10% since last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“At a time when labor shortages are contributing to inflation and high food prices, it’s clear that we need the Senate to pass our Farm Workforce Modernization Act to stabilize the agricultural workforce and protect America’s food supply,”
Said Zoe Lofgren, the Democrat representative for California who sponsored the bill.
Large and medium-scale farmers rely heavily on the migrant workforce to operate and depend on the H-2A program. And although according to many owners, this visa program makes a huge difference, since the program only allows authorization for staying nine months at a time, finding labor all year round becomes a big issue.
As the country experiences the highest 12-month increase in food prices since May 1979, farmers claim this is partly because of labor problems. However, some worker groups and unions oppose the bill, arguing that it fails to include all immigrants and could further exacerbate already existing power imbalances between farm owners and the migrant workers.
Will this immigration reform be approved in the Senate?
Although it is still uncertain when the legislation will be ready to be presented in the Senate, the bill has already gathered strong support among farmers, agriculture groups, and companies as labor shortages continue to affect food production costs.
The Senate bill is being sponsored by Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican, and Michael Benne, a Colorado Democrat. It would modify and open up the H-2A visa program in order to give the undocumented migrant workforce full residency, possibly with a path to citizenship. According to studies carried out by Texas A&M University, expanding the availability of migrant labor could help lower inflation and food costs, raise wages and lower unemployment overall.
This immigration reform could also help to open up more legal pathways for undocumented immigrants to become legal residents of the United States. Lawmakers in the country could also become more open to further modifying other types of visas and immigration procedures in favor of a larger workforce.
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