( File photo )

(UPDATED, May 25) Trump administration officials with the departments of State, Agriculture, Labor, and Homeland Security have vowed to modernize the H-2A agricultural guest worker visa program.

Stating their intent to streamline, simplify and improving the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program, the officials said in a statement they will reduce bureaucracy while ensuring adequate protections for U.S. workers.

“The Trump administration is committed to modernizing the H-2A visa program rules in a way that is responsive to stakeholder concerns and that deepens our confidence in the program as a source of legal and verified labor for agriculture — while also reinforcing the program’s strong employment and wage protections for the American workforce,” according to the statement.

By improving the H-2A visa program and substantially reducing its complexity, the statement said the administration also expects to give farmers incentives to use the E-Verify program.

The agencies, the statement said, are starting a process to “modernize the H-2A visa program by clarifying and improving the regulations governing the program.”

The officials vowed to deliver a more responsive guest worker program soon.

While applauding the Trump administration’s intentions, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said any reforms to the program advanced by Trump may only be good while the current administration is in office.

“Just as the Obama Department of Labor rescinded the George W. Bush Administration’s regulations, such modifications will only provide temporary relief from the onerous H-2A regulations,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “Our nation’s farmers and ranchers deserve more certainty than that.”

Goodlatte said a permanent legislative solution is needed to address the farm labor crisis. Goodlatte said his own legislative proposal, the Securing America’s Future Act, would permanently replace the outdated H-2A program with what he called a “workable” agricultural guestworker program known as the H-2C program.

Industry welcomes

Farmers appreciate the commitment by the agencies to improve the H-2A program, Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said in a statement. Marsh called the H-2A program imperative to America’s national security.

“NCAE, with grassroots input from our members, is committed to working with the secretaries and their agencies to modernize the H-2A visa program rules in a manner responsive to our member concerns, enhancing the program as a source of legal and verified labor for agriculture,” he said. “Today’s announcement is an exciting opportunity for the members of NCAE to shape the future structure of this critical visa program.”

The United Fresh Produce Association is pleased with the announcement, Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the association, said in a statement.

“The fruit and vegetable industry is highly dependent on our workforce in order to sustain and grow our industry to meet increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables,” Stenzel said in the statement.

“We will continue to work to drive improvements to our current labor challenges through both legislation and regulatory solutions, with the goal of creating the best possible outcome for the fresh produce industry.”

Western Growers welcomes the attempt to simply and streamline the H-2A program, president and CEO Tom Nassif said in a statement. He said the group favors changes in the program that would:

  • Modernize and reduce unnecessary cost of recruitment methods;
  • Improve the scope and accuracy of prevailing wage surveys;
  • Simplify the application process;
  • Incorporate greater flexibility for movement of workers to respond to production needs;
  • Clarify interpretations of seasonality; and
  • Streamline the approval process for housing and transportation.

While the Trump administration can change the program, Nassif said key aspects of the H-2A program can only be modified by statute.

“This is why we continue to call on Congress to enact immigration reform legislation that provides a workable path to legalization for our existing workforce and creates a new guest worker visa program to ensure ready access to an adequate supply of labor in the future,” Nassif said in the statement. “Only then can America’s fresh produce farmers plan for long-term sustainability.”