A new rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Agriculture Department (USDA) allows H-2A foreign visa workers to remain in the United States for longer than three years.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf announced on Wednesday that the agency, in coordination with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, will allow American farms to hire H-2A foreign visa workers who are already in the U.S. — bypassing existing rules that require them to hire incoming H-2A foreign visa workers.
The H-2A program allows American farms to import a limitless number of foreign workers and pay them below-average U.S. wages. American farms do not wholly rely on H-2A foreign visa workers to fill agricultural jobs, as the foreign 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.
The DHS-USDA rule means that H-2A foreign visa workers can stay in the U.S. beyond their three-year residency period without ever having to return to their home countries. The majority of H-2A foreign visa workers arrive from Mexico and Central America.
“Providing flexibility for H-2A employers to utilize H-2A workers that are currently in the United States is critically important as we continue to see travel and border restrictions as a result of COVID-19,” Perdue said in a statement.
The rule comes in addition to the State Department’s decision to waive certain visa requirements for all H-2A and H-2B foreign visa workers. The State Department waiver means U.S. employers can fast-track foreign workers with no increased medical screenings while at least 10 million Americans file for unemployment.
Report: Crammed Working Conditions for H-2A Foreign Workers Pose Public Health Riskhttps://t.co/O8RMGuDa42
— John Binder 👽 (@JxhnBinder) April 4, 2020
RJ Hauman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which advocates for less immigration to boost U.S. wages, panned the DHS-USDA rule.
“The cheap labor obsessed agriculture industry has convinced the Trump administration that we need H-2A guest workers to save our food supply chain,” Hauman told Breitbart News. “This is nonsense and underscores the need for them to leave outdated practices of the 17th century and enter the 21st through modernization. Before they do that, tens of millions of unemployed Americans are here to help.”
In 2017, H-2A foreign visa workers picking crops were paid about two percent less than their American counterparts. Likewise, foreign visa workers operating agricultural equipment were paid 23 percent less than the national average U.S. wage. 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.