President Trump says he has committed to American farmers to continue admitting large numbers of H-2A foreign visa workers to take agricultural jobs, even as jobless claims are set to climb above 3.3 million in the midst of the Chinese coronavirus crisis.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, Trump suggested United States farms would not survive without a continuous flow of H-2A foreign visa workers who are brought to the country by farmers. There is no limit to how many H-2A foreign visa workers can be admitted to the U.S.
We want the farmers to be able to get people that have been working those farms for years, or we’re not going to have farms. So they’re going to come in. And they’re going to be given a certain pass and we’re going to check them very, very closely — especially over the next month, because remember after a month or so once this passes, we’re not going to have to be, hopefully, worried too much about the virus. [Emphasis added]
But we want them to come in. We’re not closing the border so that we can’t get any of those people to come in. They’ve been there for years and years, and I’ve given a commitment that they’re going to continue to come or we’re not going to have any farmers. [Emphasis added]
Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf said his agency is considering “a number of different options with the H-2A workers” at the direction of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
“Nothing to announce here today, but again,at the direction of the President and Vice President, we’re looking at a variety of different options that I think we will have soon and be very beneficial,” Wolf said.
As federal data shows, American farmers do not wholly rely on H-2A foreign visa workers to take agricultural jobs. H-2A foreign visa workers make up only about ten percent of the total U.S. crop farm workforce. Last year, U.S. farmers hired roughly 250,000 H-2A foreign visa workers.
Despite record jobless claims due to the coronavirus crisis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has issued waivers for the H-2A and H-2B visa programs that will help fast-track foreign workers into the U.S. to take agricultural and nonagricultural jobs.
Likewise, in March, Wolf announced he would allow seasonal employers to import an additional 35,000 H-2B foreign visa workers this year — above the 66,000 annual admission cap.
While H-2A foreign visa workers earn well above the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, farmers routinely use the program to reduce wages in the agricultural industry, Bureau of Labor Statistics data has shown.
In 2017, H-2A foreign visa workers picking crops were paid about two percent less than their American counterparts, while visa workers operating agricultural equipment were paid 23 percent less than the national average wage for that job. The largest wage discrepancy comes with H-2A foreign visa workers who take jobs as first-line supervisors for farming and fishing. They are paid about 95 percent less than their American counterparts.
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.
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