President Trump committed on Wednesday to admitting large numbers of foreign workers to work agricultural jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, even as jobless claims have climbed past 6.6 million in recent weeks.
During the White House's daily press briefing, Trump suggested that United States farms would not survive without a continuous flow of H-2A foreign visa workers. Under current law, there is no limit to how many H-2A foreign visa workers can be admitted to the U.S.
President Trump said:
We want the farmers to be able to get people that have been working those farms for years, or we’re not going to have farms. So they’re going to come in. And they’re going to be given a certain pass and we’re going to check them very, very closely — especially over the next month, because remember after a month or so once this passes, we’re not going to have to be, hopefully, worried too much about the virus. [Emphasis added]
But we want them to come in. We’re not closing the border so that we can’t get any of those people to come in. They’ve been there for years and years, and I’ve given a commitment that they’re going to continue to come or we’re not going to have any farmers.
Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf said his agency is considering “a number of different options with the H-2A workers” at the direction of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Wolf added:
Nothing to announce here today, but again, at the direction of the President and Vice President, we’re looking at a variety of different options that I think we will have soon and be very beneficial.
As federal data shows, American farmers do not wholly rely on H-2A foreign visa workers to take agricultural jobs. There were just over 200,000 H-2A visas issued in 2019. When the seasonal nature of agricultural work is factored in, Philip Martin, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC-Davis, estimates that H2-A visa holders make up about ten percent of the total U.S. crop farm workforce.
In addition, despite record jobless claims due to coronavirus crisis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has issued waivers for the H-2A and H-2B visa programs that will help fast-track foreign workers into the U.S. to take agricultural and nonagricultural jobs.
Likewise, in March, Wolf announced he would allow seasonal employers to import an additional 35,000 H-2B foreign workers this year — above the 66,000 annual admission cap. However, that decision was put on hold this week.
While H-2A visa workers earn well above the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, farmers routinely use the program to reduce wages in the agricultural industry, Bureau of Labor Statistics data has shown.
This story was originally published by Breitbart News.
Updated: Thu, Apr 16th 2020 @ 12:00pm EDT