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The connection between immigration reform and peaches

Labor shortages on farms may be an important issue to those who are unsure of their views on immigration reform. Florida residents may find it helpful to note that many farmers have difficulty finding willing applicants to fill positions for harvesting, pruning and other tasks needed to maintain production. A South Carolina business, one of the largest producers of peaches in the nation, recently placed advertisements for 500 workers but received only 31 applications from U.S. citizens. The 5,000-acre farm employs approximately 500 seasonal workers from south of the border annually. This employment immigration is managed in connection with a federal guest worker program.

The H-2A program includes payment of meals, housing, transportation and a base wage of $10 per hour by the employer. According to the director of the peach farm, smaller operations are unable to afford these costs. Statistics indicate that only four percent of agricultural workers are part of the guest worker program. Leaders in agriculture indicate that more flexibility would be helpful in facilitating year-round employment and options for renewing work visas.

Industry leaders often meet with lawmakers to promote immigration reform that will benefit both large and small operations. Although there is disappointment at the slow pace of moving forward with reform, there is optimism in that Republican lawmakers are endeavoring to understand the issues. Growers who understand the importance of operating legally may be motivated to become active in the political realm to improve issues for the industry as a whole.

Without immigration reform many individuals and families face uncertainty about their current status and ability to work. It may be helpful to discuss these concerns with an immigration attorney to determine how to proceed in seeking legal status. Additionally, an attorney may be able to keep a client updated if relevant reform legislation is passed.

Source: Government Executive, "If You Like Peaches, You Should Like Immigration Reform", Alexia Campbell and Reena Flores, July 18, 2014

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