H-2A visa applications from Washington State growers have increased more than 1,000 percent since 2009, according to the state Employment Security Department. Washington employers sought 2,092 foreign guest workers in 2009. This year, they requested 24,658 H-2A visas. This reflects a national trend, with employers requesting a record 200,000 H-2A visas last year.
Craig Carroll, who manages foreign labor programs for the state, said increased immigration enforcement and changes in the domestic workforce are driving the trend. "We're just not seeing the migration of workers we used to," Carroll said.
Washington Growers League executive director Mike Gempler said "It became more expensive and more dangerous to get across the U.S.-Mexico border, and it became riskier and more difficult to be in the United States. I've talked to people who work in the fields who just thought they didn't feel welcome here anymore. They know they won't make as much money in Mexico, but they'll be near family and have nowhere near the hassle."
Growers are still required to give fruit picking jobs to U.S. citizens who apply, but fewer are seeking them now. "People used to wander in cars by the orchards looking for work all the time," Gempler said. "That's certainly not the case anymore."
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Updated: Fri, Sep 14th 2018 @ 12:05pm EDT