For years, a variety of administrations in Washington have kicked the immigration and guest worker can down the road so often it’s now more dent than can. But yesterday, the White House and USDA pledged that an in-depth, focused look at the cumbersome H-2A guest worker program will begin soon.

Whether it will or not remains to be seen. In a time when agriculture can’t muster enough support in Congress to bring a Farm Bill to the table without reams and reams of riders that complicate things (and led to the recent and resounding defeat of the 2018 Farm Bill in a first vote last week), it seems almost everything must be taken with a grain of salt.

NAFTA or no NAFTA? Membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership or not? Who knows? But here’s what USDA said about H-2A May 24:

H-2A workers in a Florida Classic Growers peach orchard in Dundee, FL; (above) H-2A workers at Baker Farms in Norman Park, GA. (Photos by Chip Carter)

“When President Trump addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation in January of this year, he reminded the audience that his commitment to our farmers has been clear since the day his administration began: ‘From that day on, we have been working every day to deliver for America’s farmers just as they work every single day to deliver for us.’

“In keeping with that commitment, our departments are working in coordination to propose streamlining, simplifying and improving the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program — reducing cumbersome bureaucracy and ensuring adequate protections for U.S. workers.

Definition Of ‘Soon’ Is Anybody’s Guess

“The Trump administration is committed to modernizing the H-2A visa program rules in a way that is responsive to stakeholder concerns and that deepens our confidence in the program as a source of legal and verified labor for agriculture — while also reinforcing the program’s strong employment and wage protections for the American workforce.

“In addition, by improving the H-2A visa program and substantially reducing its complexity, the administration also plans to incentivize farmers’ use of the E-Verify program to ensure their workforce is authorized to work in the United States.

“As the agencies tasked with administering or facilitating the H-2A visa program, and thus closest to farmer and labor stakeholders, the Departments of State, Agriculture, Labor and Homeland Security are embarking on a process to modernize the H-2A visa program by clarifying and improving the regulations governing the program. We look forward to delivering a more responsive program soon.”

That definition of “soon” is, again, anybody’s guess. But the United Fresh Produce Association was hopeful enough that the announcement will be the beginning of real change versus more can-kicking that it issued this statement late yesterday afternoon:

United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel

“United Fresh is pleased with today’s announcement by the Trump Administration and the Departments of State, Agriculture, Labor, and Homeland Security, regarding their commitment to address the critical challenges of the existing bureaucratic temporary agricultural labor programs.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Administration to meet our industry’s need for adequate labor. The fruit and vegetable industry is highly dependent on our workforce in order to sustain and grow our industry to meet increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“United Fresh has been in constant dialogue with Congress, the Administration and other stakeholders to convey that the fruit and vegetable industry needs a streamlined solution to our critical labor issues. We will continue to work to drive improvements to our current labor challenges through both legislation and regulatory solutions, with the goal of creating the best possible outcome for the fresh produce industry.”

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