The past couple weeks have been a mixed bag when it comes to labor challenges facing the horticulture industry.
On March 29, the Department of Homeland Security announced it plans to release an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for returning immigrant workers. The announcement was lauded by AmericanHort, which had been working with its advocacy team, industry leaders, association members, state association partners, and like-minded industries participating in the H-2B Workforce Coalition, which AmericanHort co-chairs.
“These additional visas will certainly provide some relief for our members who have been shut out of the H-2B program this year due to the cap,” says Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Research. “Many thanks to our champions in the U.S. Senate and House who have continued to help us push for visa cap relief.”
Regelbrugge says the severe shortage of seasonal worker visas has meant huge uncertainty and economic harm for landscape businesses, and this uncertainty has also spilled over to affect nursery and greenhouse growers, equipment providers, and others in the landscape supply chain.
Though the number of additional visas is less than half the 69,320 additional visas Congress authorized, and falls well short of current demand, it is double the number that have been made available in the past two fiscal years. The 30,000 visas will be made available via a temporary final rule that will soon be published in the Federal Register.
AmericanHort also recognized the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for holding a hearing this week on “Securing the Future of American Agriculture.” In the hearing, Members heard from witnesses representing agricultural employers, family farms, and farm workers about the challenges facing labor-intensive agricultural sectors in today’s agricultural economy.
“As the committee works to assess immigration policies to assist agricultural producers, we’re hopeful a good, bipartisan solution can emerge that will achieve three important outcomes,” Regelbrugge says. “The solution that works must stabilize our current experienced agricultural workforce, provide for our future workforce needs, and achieve clarity and integrity in the hiring and employment eligibility verification process.”
AmericanHort has been at the forefront of advocating for responsible agricultural and seasonal labor laws and visa programs that support the national interest and ensure labor-intensive agricultural employers, including nursery and greenhouse growers, have access to the workforce they need to succeed. The association also thanked Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), and the subcommittee members for their attention to this important and urgent issue.
Border Shutdown Could Be Costly
However, the possibility of a potential Mexican border shutdown still looms, and with that comes uncertainty of the availability of both foreign workers, and a supply of agricultural products.
On March 27, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the CBP will be reassigning up to 750 officers from ports of entry along the southern border to assist U.S. Border Patrol with the processing of migrant crossings along the border. Because of the large reassignment of CBP officers, he said importers and exporters should expect to see a slowdown in the processing of trade along the U.S.-Mexico border for an unspecified period. CBP will be forced to close some processing lanes, potentially in the ports of El Paso, Laredo, Tucson, and San Diego. In addition, officials at the port in Nogales, AZ, have announced closing commercial border traffic on Sundays.
In response, the United Fresh Produce Association has put out a statement noting that these steps “will cause significant harm to growers, wholesale distributors, transportation companies, grocery stores, restaurants, and most importantly, U.S. consumers. On behalf of the fresh produce industry and the broad cross-section of members we represent, we urge the Administration to reconsider these steps that would profoundly interrupt our ability to bring fresh, healthy produce to all Americans. If these actions are implemented, the Administration will cause millions in economic losses while increasing costs to consumers across North America.
“The solution to our immigration problems is not closing the border or slowing commercial traffic, but for Congress and the Administration to work together on real immigration reform,” the statement continues. “That is why our association continues to call upon our nation’s leaders to get on with sensible reform that ensures a legal workforce for agriculture together with a functional border.”