The Indiana Senate Select Committee on Immigration heard testimony this week about the effect of unauthorized aliens on the economic well-being of Indiana and its workforce and wages. Indiana Farm Bureau’s Katrina Hall was joined by Kristi Boswell, American Farm Bureau Federation director of congressional relations. Boswell explained immigration reform is a Farm Bureau priority to ensure farmers have access to a legal and stable workforce.
“Agriculture nationwide needs about 1.5 to 2 million workers,” she said. “Currently anywhere from 50-70 percent of that workforce is unauthorized to work in the United States. I say unauthorized and not undocumented. They have documents, they’re just not as good as they look, and farmers do what they can to verify their legal status, but we are an industry that has stood up and said we rely on this immigrant labor force. They are valuable to our farms and experienced and are critical to harvesting our fresh fruits and vegetables and milking our cows and tending our livestock.”
Farmers rely on the H-2A Visa Program, allowing them access to seasonal, foreign born labor when the farmer can demonstrate need. Boswell said it is a cumbersome and expensive system now burdened by excessive processing delays. Its overhaul is just part of the national immigration reform Farm Bureau seeks.
“The only way we really can achieve the stability we need is through responsible immigration reform that addresses enforcement and also creates a new, flexible market based visa program for agriculture that’s administered by USDA and not the Department of Labor, that works for not only seasonal agricultural work but year round. The dairy industry and livestock industry are critically impacted by labor issues as well. Lastly we also need an adjustment of status for our current experienced workers who are working and valuable to our farms but are here on unauthorized status.”
Table 1 compares the number of requested and approved H2-A workers in Indiana from 2010 to 2013. As demonstrated, the need for labor is growing and H-2A workers play critical role in meeting those needs. Of the certified H-2A position in 2013, the largest need was to fill a labor demand in the Farmer workers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse area employing 1,002 of the visa holders. It is ever more evident how the burdensome the requirements of this program are when we consider that 88% of employers are investigated annually nationwide.
|Table1. Total Ag Related Jobs in Indiana, Requested and Certified H-2A Workers|
|Total Production Ag Related Jobs in Indiana||1,980||3,050|
|Requested Jobs to be filled by H-2A Workers||72||1,024|
|Certified Positions actually filled by H-2A Workers||71||1,017|
|Source: OFLC Performance Data, FY 2013 Report and BLS, Occupational Employment Statistics|
And Farm Bureau does support building a wall.
“Farm Bureau’s policy supports border security including the use of increased technology and building a wall,” Boswell said. “At American Farm Bureau we are in all 50 states and so we have border states that are directly impacted by the violence and crime at the border.”