Ag Visas up; Hurts Unemployed Americans, Adds to Population Growth

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

December 4, 2017
According to the Capital Press, which describes itself as the West’s agriculture website, in 2017 the U.S. Department of Labor approved 200, 049 H-2A guest worker visas, a 20.7 increase over the 2016 total of 165, 741. The H-2A is a temporary visa that allows foreign nations to legally enter the United States to perform seasonal agricultural labor. The workers must be selected from a Department of Homeland Security approved list that’s revised annually.

For the agriculture industry, no amount of visas will ever be enough. Frank Gasperini Jr., the National Council for Agricultural Employers’ executive vice-president said the United States isn’t raising enough “new domestic workers in agriculture, construction, hospitals or hotels. We will have fewer people doing that type of work and with our borders tighter than ever, foreign guest workers are the only relief valve.” While there may be a legitimate need for some agriculture workers, especially as the ag industry stalls on mechanization, plenty of Americans have done and are available to do construction, hospital, and hotel work. Historically, Americans did those jobs.
workers picket los angeles
Unemployed South Los Angeles works at a jobs rally.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services list other H-2A provisions that ag leaders rarely mention. Posted on the USCIS website are the following conditions: employers to can 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.

In an economy with millions unemployed or under-employed, arguing that Americans can’t be found to work in hotels or hospitals, point one above, defies credibility. As for point two about immigration and wages, the Los Angeles Times spelled the harmful effect out clearly in its April story, “Immigrants Flooded California Construction. Worker Pay Sank. Here’s Why.”

One of the Times’ conclusions is that as immigration increased “…the job got less lucrative. American construction workers today make $5 an hour less than they did in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.”
Fewer visas not only help unemployed workers, but also assist in curbing unsustainable population growth. About 40 percent of visa holders don’t return on a timely basis. 
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