Oct 4, 2019
Latest in visa and housing news to be shared at 2019 EXPO

After the proposed H-2C visas failed to gain support from the legislature, changes to H-2A and H-2B visas were revisited. The changes and new considerations growers need to make will be the focus of several sessions at the 2019 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO.

In the Federal Labor Update session, Michael Marsh, chief executive officer of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, will provide all of the information that growers need to prepare for the upcoming season’s labor needs based on current H-2A visa legislation.

Additionally, Marty Miller will discuss housing solutions for visa holders at Rethinking Housing for Agricultural Workers. Together, these updates will provide a cohesive strategy for gaining the labor needed throughout the growing cycle.

Last season, growers received approximately 200,000 visaed workers, while over 242,000 jobs were certified. Marsh estimated the number of visas available will increase to around 230,000-240,000. As new information rolls in from the White House, Marsh speculated these visas will be for other industries and not just agriculture. Forestry and other industries may be sharing the group of H-2A visas traditionally reserved for Agriculture.

“This is prospective, and it appears that the DOL will apply the changes at the beginning of the next fiscal year, which is October 1, 2019. We saw a couple rule-makings this year, one with regard to advertising and another with streamlining applications. Those closed around Christmas of 2018, and we’re waiting on final rules on those. However, I think the DOL is trying to also apply those changes on October 1,” Marsh said.

Many of the requirements of previous years will continue; this includes covering costs during the interview process, such as hotel and per diem, providing transit to the work site, then offering housing and either food or cooking facilities to the H-2A visa holders.

“The program is continuing to expand in popularity as well as demand,” said Marsh. With the low unemployment, few workers from the U.S. will be available for additional open positions. “Plus, very few Americans last more than a few days at these jobs,” he said. Combined with the aging domestic workforce and slowing birth rates, this challenge will remain at least through this upcoming growing season but likely for years to come.

Marsh anticipated the competition for the H-2A visas will continue to be strong. “With that trend, the cost associated with planting or harvesting is likely to increase, so a grower needs to capture additional cost in the marketplace.”

A comment session will be open for 60 days following the publishing of the rule change, and it is imperative that growers let their representatives know what their opinions are about the changes. That comment period should be open until mid-September.

When considering applying for H-2A visa workers, growers have to consider the other challenge: housing. Marty Miller works for a nonprofit organization in Washington state that acts as an affordable housing developer. This includes land acquisition, building permitting, zoning approvals, finances and preparing for workers to live in the new facilities.

Miller’s session will focus on addressing the challenges around providing housing. Miller hopes to help growers understand whether housing should be provided and what growers should be asking when exploring the option.

Growers need to think about a variety of qualifying questions, such as for whom they should provide housing, if it should be shared with another grower, the length of season and how that impacts migrant workers.

“The session is about trying to walk through feasibility assumptions. Growers think they are interested, but what do they need to map out to see if it is worth capital investment and be successfully operated over a period of years? I plan to dig into the assumptions growers may have and provide insight to those who are considering building worker housing,” Miller said.

As with all sessions at the EXPO, these housing and visa sessions will provide information that most growers need to ensure success in the coming season. With a full docket of educational sessions throughout the duration of the EXPO, growers will come away with fresh information and ideas to make the coming season their best one yet.

Registration for the Great Lakes EXPO opens October 1, 2019. Check out www.glexpo.com for more information and to register.


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