Congress is debating an expansion of a migrant-worker visa program.
Tucked within the Department of Homeland Security’s $91.5 billion spending bill for fiscal year 2024 are changes to the H-2A and H-2B visa programs.
The H-2A visa is specific to temporary agriculture work, while the H-2B is a temporary work visa for non-agriculture work. The changes under H-2A would expand the work programs so the agriculture industry could employee foreign workers in a more long-term capacity, not just seasonally or temporarily.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., is calling for the removal of the expansion of the foreign-worker visa programs from the DHS spending bill, arguing the changes would create new challenges for farmers who only need additional workers on a short-term basis.
If the proposed changes are made to the H-2A visa program specifically, “that means all those farmers, all those landscapers, all those businesses that only need seasonal work are going to be directly competing with those who offer full-time work,” Clyde told The Daily Signal, adding:
Now you’re basically pitting farmers that need full-time workers against farmers that only need seasonal workers.
“A lot of farmers … can’t afford employees year-round,” he said, adding that he thinks full-time jobs that are available and could be filled by Americans should not be given to foreign workers.
If the proposed changes are made to the visa programs, “Americans … who are working full time will also have to compete with these foreign workers now,” the Georgia lawmaker said.
Michael Clements, farm manager for Top Flavor Farms, a family-owned-and-operated produce farm in Yuma, Arizona, told The Daily Signal that the “H-2A guest worker has been very beneficial for the fresh produce industry, increasing in recent years. The utilization of the H-2A program has allowed U.S. farmers to continually and consistently feed the demand of the U.S. food supply when domestic labor is not available.”
The jobs offered to foreign workers are available to American workers, Clements said, adding that the “jobs that are filled with H-2A visa applicants are posted on a U.S. Department of Labor website [a minimum of] 30 days prior to the job-start date and advertised within a three-state radius to ensure maximum outreach to domestic workers.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 298,000 H-2A work visas were issued in 2022.
Clyde contends that changes do need to be made to the foreign-worker visa program to remove red tape and to cut back on the amount of paperwork the federal government requires of farmers, but says an appropriations bill is not the place to insert significant changes to the programs.
Lora Ries, director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation, echoed Clyde’s concerns, telling The Daily Signal:
Changing and expanding the terms of temporary, seasonal lawful visa programs to be—at least in the case of the H-2A program—neither temporary nor seasonal, should be debated and voted on, on their merits in the authorizing committees. Such changes should not be snuck into an appropriations bill.
(The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Breitbart reported that Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington state and David Valadao of California are backing the changes to the H-2A and H-2B visas programs in the appropriations bill. Neither Newhouse nor Valadao responded to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
Congress is seeking to pass all 12 of the appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
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