Packer Interview - Richard Owen June 23
Richard Owen, vice president of global membership and engagement at the  Produce Marketing Association. ( The Packer )

President Trump’s latest move to extend the suspension of certain visas through the end of the year won’t affect the H-2A guest agricultural worker program, Richard Owen says. 

Owen, vice president of global membership and engagement at the  Produce Marketing Association, spoke with The Packer’s editor Tom Karst June 23 about Trump’s latest immigration order.

The White House said Trump's latest annoucement builds on his April pause on non-immigrant visas.

“President Trump is building on this measure with an additional pause on several job-related non-immigrant visas—H-1Bs, H-2Bs without a nexus to the food-supply chain, certain H-4s, as well as Ls and certain Js—preserving jobs for American citizens,” the White House said in a news release.

Guest agricultural workers were not covered by Trump’s action.

“The good news for agriculture is that the H-2Aa visa, which is the temporary worker visa that most of our seasonal labor comes in under, was also exempted,” Owen said.

The White House said Trump is extending the pause on new immigrant visas through the end of the year. In addition, the release said the Trump Administration will reform  the immigration system to prioritize the highest-skilled workers and protect American jobs.

Under President Trump’s reforms, the release said the H-1B program will prioritize those workers who are offered the highest wage, ensuring that the highest-skilled applicants are admitted.

The H-1B is a temporary visa category that allows employers to petition for highly educated foreign professionals to work in “specialty occupations” that require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent. 

The White House release said the reforms will also “close loopholes” that have allowed employers in the U.S. to replace American workers with low-cost foreign labor.
Owen said the COVID-19 crisis has focused policy on the importance of food supply chain.

“I think one of the messages that has come through loud and clear with the COVID-19 pandemic is how important are the essential industries (such as) the food and agriculture industry and all of the sectors that supply food into the country,” Owen said. While there may be political pressure to extend the visa tightening to more categories, Owen said he believes the H-2A exemption will continue.

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