AgJOBS Amnesty

The AgJOBS amnesty bill has been introduced on a yearly basis for over a decade. In 2009 (111th Congress), the amnesty was introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

The AgJOBS amnesty is also a part of Rep. Gutierrez's "comprehensive" amnesty and immigration increase bill.

The AgJOBS amnesty would require the Department of Homeland Security to grant an "emergency" Amnesty to more than 1 million illegal aliens, using an "emergency agricultural worker status." In order to qualify for the Amnesty, illegal aliens would need to (based on the 2008 version):

  • show that they worked 863 hours or 150 work days or earned at least $7,000 in agricultural employment during the past four years,
  • file an Amnesty application through DHS or a "qualified designated entity" during an 18-month application period,
  • not be a known terrorist or convicted criminal,
  • and pay a fine of $250.

Once an illegal alien meets the minimum requirements, they can acquire legal status for their spouse and children, get a social security card, and become immune to future prosecution for social security fraud.

To maintain their "emergency agricultural worker status," former illegal aliens would have to complete 100 days of agricultural work each year for up to five years, allowing them to compete for American jobs the other 265 days per year. They would also be required to pay federal income taxes.

H-2A Visa Program = No Need for Illegal Workers

The H-2A visa program (see USCIS website) allows employers to hire seasonal foreign workers when (1) U.S. workers are not available, and (2) the hiring of the H-2A worker does not diminish the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. 

The H-2A program also requires employers to inform USCIS when H-2A workers have violated the terms of their visa (i.e. not showing up for work) or is no longer needed for work.

H-2A Example

North Carolina growers have recently set up an association that meets all its ag labor needs through local workers and legal foreign workers brought through the existing H-2A visa, the provisions of which ensure—or try to— that the seasonal guest workers go home.

According to the North Carolina Growers Association: NCGA is able to provide a viable solution to the perpetual labor shortage faced by today's farmers. NCGA members are provided with a workforce that is legal, reliable, and ready to ensure that your crops are planted, maintained, and harvested in a timely fashion. 

Complaints about H-2A

Many news stories quote employers saying that they need illegal workers because the H-2A program is "too cumbersome." The logical question then becomes "Why aren't you lobbying for H-2A reform instead of amnesty?"

Dairy Farmers claim they can't use H-2A because they need year-round workers, not seasonal. But H-2A, although temporary, can be used all year round; the certificate is for 364 days; and there is no limit as long as they follow the rules of payment, food board, and make sure the workers remain temporary

Growers who refuse to use the H-2A program mainly do so because they have to pay an almost decent wage under the program, while illegal aliens are cheaper.

Pres. Obama's changes to H-2A

As of March 15, 2010, the Obama Administration's new regulations will:

  • require growers to make a greater effort to offer their crop-picking jobs to legal immigrants and U.S. citizens already in this country;
  • mandate that jobs be posted on an electronic registry to more widely publicize jobs to U.S. workers; and
  • increases the minimum wage for the foreign workers by about a dollar an hour

This reverses changes made late in George W. Bush's presidency, that made it easier for growers to fill jobs with cheap, foreign labor.

How Real is the Labor Shortage in Agriculture?

In 2009, "there was just about enough demand [for farm workers] to be met with the local domestic farm workers," according to Janine Duron, executive director of the Independent Agricultural Workers' Center.

In 2007, Dr. Philip Martin (professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis) issued a paper, "Farm Labor Shortages: How Real? What Response?", in which he noted that a labor shortage would be evident in three ways: (1) lack of productivity, (2) wage increases (law of supply and demand), and (3) rising costs to consumers. Dr. Martin found the opposite:

  • Production of fruits and vegetables has been increasing. In particular, plantings of very-labor intensive crops such as cherries and strawberries have grown by more than 20 percent in just five years.
  • Real wages for farm workers increased one-half of one percent (.5 percent) a year on average between 2000 and 2006. If there were a shortage, wages would be rising much more rapidly.
  • Household expenditure on fresh fruits and vegetables has remain relatively constant, averaging about $1 a day for the past decade.

Dr. Martin also found that "Labor costs comprise only 6 percent of the price consumers pay for fresh produce. Thus, if farm wages were allowed to rise 40 percent, and if all the costs were passed on to consumers, the cost to the average household would be only about $8 a year."

Furthermore, if the cost of labor were to rise, mechanization could offset higher labor costs: "After the "Bracero" Mexican guestworker program ended in the mid-1960s, farm worker wages rose 40 percent, but consumer prices rose relatively little because the mechanization of some crops dramatically increased productivity." Excellent examples can be found in the raisin, orange, and cranberry industries.

Mechanical harvesting is common practice in wine harvesting worldwide, and U.S. vineyards that have mechanized expect the more efficient method to translate into lower prices for customers.

High immigration, however, discourages mechanization, and diminishes productivity. From 1990 to 2005, farm workers saw little to negative gains in income, insurance coverage, health, and housing.