Every year, growers from coast to coast, large and small, report worker shortages. The result has been uncertainty as to whether there will be sufficient and dependable labor to harvest the crop or expand operations.
In response to these labor uncertainties, more apple growers have turned to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The H-2A program is complicated, expensive, and subject to delay, but the need is so great that the number of H-2A workers has quadrupled in the past ten years. That trend continues, much of it being driven by the apple industry. This increase has added to existing capacity problems at the Departments of Labor, State and Homeland Security and, consequently, workers continue to be delayed. For a perishable crop like apples, the delay of even a few days can make the difference between a profit and a loss.
A stable, legal and reliable workforce is critical if we are to continue to have a vibrant, domestic apple industry. Mandatory E-Verify without broader reforms would have a devastating effect on the industry. Therefore, passing legislative reforms that address both the current and future flow of workers is the industry’s top priority.
Every farm worker engaged in high-value, labor-intensive crop production sustains three or more local, off-farm (but agricultural dependent), year-round jobs. Losing our foreign-born workforce would have the same economic impact on these communities as factories closed and moved overseas.
USApple supported the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act which passed the House in 2019 and 2021. The process must now start anew. USApple urges the House and the Senate to forge bipartisan and bicameral agreement.
USApple is very concerned with recent regulatory changes and proposals which will further increase the cost and administrative burdens of the H-2A program.
USApple urges Congress to pass legislation that provides meaningful agricultural labor reform and meets the following objectives:
1) Provides a stable, adequate and predictable supply of agricultural labor capable of participating legally in the U.S. workforce;
2) Significantly reforms the H-2A program; and
3) Addresses the unsustainable escalation of mandated guest worker wage rates and simplifies and provides legal reform to remove unreasonable employer sanctions and regulatory burdens.