Agricultural Work Visas Soar As Farmers Struggle With Labor Shortages Amid Immigration Crackdown

Ask any farmer in California what keeps them up at night and we would guess that nearly all of them would list 'labor shortages' and 'water access' as their top two concerns.  Ironically, despite over 90 million American citizens choosing to sit out of the labor force and California having one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country, farmers in the Golden State struggle every year to find enough labor to keep fruits and vegetables from literally rotting on the vine.

Meanwhile, as the new administration promises to crack down on illegal immigrants, farmers are feeling the labor shortages in 2017 more than ever.  As the Wall Street Journal notes today, many farmers have turned to the H-2A agricultural visa program to recruit temporary workers from Mexico but the process is generally described as "bureaucratic, costly and time-consuming."

In the first nine months of fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, the U.S. Labor Department certified more than 160,000 temporary workers—the bulk of them from Mexico—to harvest berries, tobacco and other crops in the U.S. under the H-2A agricultural visa program. That was up 20% from the period a year earlier.


The annual issuance of H-2A visas nearly doubled from 85,248 in fiscal 2012 to 165,741 in 2016. The U.S. doesn’t cap the number of these visas.


Outside of agriculture, use of another type of seasonal-work visa also has surged in response to increased U.S. demand for unskilled laborers such as hotel housekeepers. The Department of Homeland Security in July raised the annual cap on H-2B visas by more than 20% to 81,000. The majority of workers receiving this type of visa also are from Mexico.



But, despite its flaws, farmers say that any efforts to further curtail temporary agricultural visas would only result in more product losses for farmers and higher grocery bills for American consumers.

American farmers for several years have voiced concerns about labor shortages, often paired with complaints about the H-2A visa program, which many see as overly bureaucratic, costly and time-consuming. The program requires employers to pay for food, housing and transportation for seasonal guest workers. Still, most farmers say the program is crucial to the U.S. agricultural industry.


“It’s extremely burdensome,” but cutting the program would “bring the industry to its knees” because there aren’t enough U.S.-born farmworkers, said Steve Scaroni, owner of large-scale farms in several states and founder of Fresh Harvest, one of the largest recruiters of H-2A workers in the U.S. “Within a week there wouldn’t be salad in the store” if the program was canceled, he said.


In 2015, farmers in California’s Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, which grow roughly 30% of the strawberries in the U.S., reported $13 million in losses because they lacked enough labor to harvest their crops in a timely manner.


Last year, vegetable farmers in the two counties reported they had 22% fewer workers than needed on average, while berry farmers put the worker shortage at 26%, according to a survey conducted by a local growers association.

Of course, as we've pointed out numerous times before, America doesn't really have a "labor shortage" at all, but rather, a massive skills and/or motivation gap resulting from decades of American youth being indoctrinated with the notion that focusing on obtaining a skills-based trade job, rather than going to college, was somehow demeaning, racist and/or misogynistic. 

You know, because throwing 10's of thousands of dollars at millions of high school kids who will use their taxpayer-subsidized student loans for hedonistic, binge-drinking spring break trips to Cancun, all while 'earning' a 1.5 GPA in anthropology from a state school and then returning to mom's basement with no job after graduation, is just so much more enlightened and progressive.

Meanwhile, the cost of that progressivism is an economy that has ~95 million people who have voluntarily taken themselves out of the labor force, many because they simply don't possess the right skills or are unwilling to take jobs that they've been convinced are 'demeaning.'


For those who still aren't convinced....perhaps you have another explanation for why over 30% of the ~75 million 18-34 year olds in this country (roughly 22.5 million people) are currently living at home with mom and dad while everyone from homebuilders to farmers are struggling to find workers?


Of course, in the end, labor restrictions and soaring minimum wages will simply result in more of America's food production being outsourced to Mexico and South America.  That said, something tells us that the progressives in California who jammed through their $15 minimum wage and essentially made it impossible to farm fresh fruits and vegetables in their state are not going to be all that happy when they learn about Mexico's environmental regulations, or lack thereof, on food production.


ejmoosa Tue, 08/08/2017 - 15:36 Permalink

It's the businesses that are refusing to raise their wages that are aiding the Central Banks with the myth that there is no inflation.Raise your wages, and pass on the costs.  Until you do, we will all have an aberration of an economy that is just one sneeze away from the depressionary flu.The government is certainly raising taxes on all we buy and passing on those costs to us.  Why doesn't the tax burden figure into inflation as well, now that I am thinking about it?

swmnguy ejmoosa Tue, 08/08/2017 - 16:42 Permalink

^^This.Thank you for saying this.  I've had it up to here with the fiction that Americans won't work.  Bull-fucking-shit.  Maybe we won't work at the wages being offered.  I've turned down a few jobs in the past couple of years, because I'd have had to take a pay cut around 45% and give up being self-employed to have taken the jobs.  And that percentage includes all the costs of employment, such as the perqs and benefits package and the other half of Employment Tax.Ever done farm work?  It's fucking hard work.  Dirty and dangerous, too.  Most Overtime, Minimum Wage, Child Labor and working conditions laws do not apply to farm work.  Getting paid is one of the harder parts of the job.  I grew up in farm country and started doing farm work when I was about 10.  When I turned 16 and was able to get a job as a dishwasher I thought it was freaking great because I'd be making minimum wage (at that time I think it was $3.15/hr.) which tripled my wage.  Plus I'd be able to work indoors, and could take a drink of water whenever I wanted to.  Yes, the farmers would take all the water bottles, jugs and canteens and keep them in the trunk of their car while we worked, so we would have more incentive to work quickly.  It was fucking insane.  Kids would pass out, get brutally sunburned, etc.Whatever.  Since those days I've always snickered viciously when some puffy self-righteous silver-spoon fuck from the suburbs lectures me on how lazy Americans are 'cause they won't take Daddy's obsolete wages to do shit-work.A key problem with America's version of corporate finance capitalism is that it counts labor as an expense to be cut.  There's no accounting for the fact that without labor production doesn't happen, and it certainly costs money to replace and train labor and that too has an effect on production.  If labor had a spot on the asset side of the ledger, American business practices would be very different, as would US history.  Companies that treat their employees well and find useful things for people to do would be the valuable ones, and the companies that treat employees as disposable cum-wipes would go out of business.  Our system would do a much better job at the true function of a social structure; giving people useful and rewarding things to do.It's beyond endurance to hear people whine that nobody will take the jobs they offer at wages that won't support anyone and are wildly below the prevailing rates.  And if your industry can only function with illegal or slave labor, maybe you're not really in business in the first place.

In reply to by ejmoosa

crazzziecanuck Simplifiedfrisbee Tue, 08/08/2017 - 17:08 Permalink

Look at the examples the previous generation has set.You have 'roid rage freaks getting millions of dollars a year to play a kid's game.  Football, baseball, hockey, you name it.  Doesn't matter.  Or "celebrity".  Tell me, why does Kim Kardashian get to have millions?  What does she do (aside from keeping plastic surgeons in business)?What about Jaime Diamon?  Or Donald Trump?  Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson?The system is broken, and if the boomers and Generation X won't lift a finger to fix things, why should millenials?  I think it's broken beyond repair but it didn't have to be.  Previous generations, including my own GenX generation really haven't done much to remedy things.When I was younger, everyone in Generation X knew the Boomers basically destroyed everything.  We could see it, but the plan was simply to wait the Boomers out.  The laziest approach imaginable...

In reply to by Simplifiedfrisbee

not dead yet crazzziecanuck Wed, 08/09/2017 - 04:46 Permalink

Tell us oh unwise one how the boomer generation fucked everything up. No generation got to vote on sending jobs overseas or the prolific wars and regime changes the US engaged in. Blaming whole generations for the machinations of the 1% and the connected is sheer ignorance. Maybe your old man should have taken you to the woodshed and beat the hell out of you with a big belt like every generation did before the boomers stopped this practice after being victims of it. If you don't like it turn your lifestyle back to the 50's where blacks rode in the back of the bus or had seperate water fountains and entrances, where women had zero chance at a career and went to college to get a better class of man, sit in front of your B&W 20" TV with 5 channels with none after 12 midnight, home computers only existed is SciFi, internet you're kidding right, where we had regular aid raid drills and fallout shelters were the rage, cars and trucks that polluted a lot and guzzled fuel, where rivers caught fire and many cities had for days smog so bad that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, where you were required to help with the dishes and mow the lawn, only AM radio and you had to buy records, buy stuff from the catalog and get it in a week or two not overnight, where stores closed at 6 pm and noon on Saturday and closed on Sunday, instead of praising you for your crappy grades the old man slapped you silly, no airconditioning or DVD players in the car on that roadtrip to grandmas or anyplace else, where only the well to do could afford plane fare while the rest rode the train or bus, or those hot nights sleeping in your own sweat as you shared a room with 1 or 2 sibilings as home airconditioning for normal people was too expensive. We could go on all night with this stuff you ungrateful wimp. Get on the net and call up some old shows like Leave it to Beaver, Donna Reed Show, Ozzie and Harriet, and so many others that were a slice of life back then for middle class families while others had it far worse. Bet you wouldn't trade a single minute of your current existence to go back to that era. I sure wouldn't. Must say though people were nicer and had more respect for each other back then.

In reply to by crazzziecanuck

Reverend.Pajam… Simplifiedfrisbee Wed, 08/09/2017 - 02:51 Permalink

Yup, minimum wage is a cruel joke. You, Simplifiedfrisbee, wouldn't work hard for less money than it costs to eat and live indoors - and neither will any other American.Let's get rid of "guest worker" slave labor. Some farmers will pay Americans a decent wage, and find there is absolutely no shortage of quality labor whatsoever.  Other farmers won't be able to get over their snobbery and hatred of workers. They will refuse to pay a decent wage. Therefore they will find no labor willing to work, and they will go out of business. As rightly they should.If your "business" requires slave-like labor to be profitable, you're no businessman. You're a goddamned welfare leach, sucking from Uncle Sam's teat way harder than any ghetto momma. The whole of the working people will applaud when your "business" fails. New, better businessmen will buy your land and equipment for pennies on the dollar, and run a profitable business that pays its labor and contributes to civilization. Unwashed bums will spit on you as you stand in line for your welfare check.

In reply to by Simplifiedfrisbee

DosZap ejmoosa Tue, 08/08/2017 - 17:32 Permalink

Why?, because most Americans are CLUELESS about inflation,and the causes.12oz cost the same as 16oz used to,everything bagged smaller, and costs up 20-35%. Fresh fruit and vegetables were the least expensive thing we could buy growing up,raised some of our own chickens(and we lived in a town of 20,000,yet no one cared if you had farm animals in your backyards!,or big gardens and fruit trees., and life as far as food was great.Now the crap that will kill you is less expensive than 95% of ALL farm produce, not due to labor shortages, there are no farming families left hardly at all.Thank the EPA for that, and the kids wanting better jobs leaving small town USA in search of the elusive Golden Ring.

In reply to by ejmoosa

bowie28 Tue, 08/08/2017 - 15:41 Permalink

So the farms will have to pay a high enough wage to attract US workers.  Supply and demand 101.  I don't see a problem with this. I'll gladly pay a little more for fresh fruits and veggies if it's funding legal US workers doing real work to earn a living and support themselves and their families. We're paying to support them either way, may as well get something of value for it. But then what would we do with all the beaurocrats who administer these foreign worker programs and welfare/training programs for currently unemployed millenials who feel manual labor is beneath them?  Maybe they can go get jobs building the wall...  

bowie28 Simplifiedfrisbee Tue, 08/08/2017 - 17:16 Permalink

I prefer to grow my own or purchase from local farmstands whenever possible but where I live in the Northeast the property size and climate don't really allow for much of that so it's the local Shoprite or Fairway for most of what we need for most of the year.  Granted a lot of what they sell is not nearly as good as what I get from my garden (and indoor hydroponic setup for the winter) but you do the best with what you have available.My point was I'd rather pay more at the grocery store to support a living wage for people doing hard work than pay more in taxes to manage migrant worker programs and send lazy snowflakes to job-training courses for jobs that don't exist.  If that makes me a ZH shill then so be it.  What's your solution?Can't help you with your Walmart question as I don't shop there, ever.  

In reply to by Simplifiedfrisbee

Simplifiedfrisbee bowie28 Tue, 08/08/2017 - 18:19 Permalink

Bowie, look at it from an economic perspective. Firms, yes farmers are corporations, will maximize profits regardless of the labor class. The current class of farm laborers are the best in their field(no pun intended). No US born millennial can match the efficiency of the current farm laborer. Paying the trump inspired snowflakes and the whiny democrats a living wage is not enough. They require more accommodations which raise the cost of doing business for farmers. Furthermore, insurance would sky rocket under this new fragile labor class. Instead of paying .99 per pound of tomatoes, you will pay $2.49 per pound. What will organic farmers do in response? What will the multiplier effect be?

In reply to by bowie28

bowie28 Simplifiedfrisbee Tue, 08/08/2017 - 18:39 Permalink

"No US born millennial can match the efficiency of the current farm laborer."That is a symptom of the flaws in the current system, not a reason to continue it. If farm corporations no longer have the option of cheap illegal labor they will find a way to get the labor they need and by necessity that will squeeze their margins and make less available for the parasites to feed on.  A painful but necessary transition.And as for the wussy snowflakes, it will be a shock for them to actually do hard work to put food on the table but they will adjust as humans do whenever their situation requires.  And as pathetic as our population has become I do believe there are still some who would be up to the job from day 1. Maybe tomoatoes SHOULD be $2.49/lb.  If half of what I earn was not confiscated by gov to administer all these useless and corrupt crony programs I could pay $10/lb and still come out ahead.

In reply to by Simplifiedfrisbee

crazzziecanuck bowie28 Tue, 08/08/2017 - 17:10 Permalink

If you pay more, trust me, it's not going to the producers.  Much less to the workers employed by the producers.  It's all being sucked up by the various toll keepers along the way.  Insurance companies, feed companies, equipment dealers and repair shops.  Any headroom a producer could get is immediately sucked up by the parasites, just like any other industry.The only way you can be sure that you are helping is to buy directly from a farmer you can trust.

In reply to by bowie28

slightlyskeptical bowie28 Tue, 08/08/2017 - 17:50 Permalink

Can't do farm laborer work for a career, although many do, and it is a very short career, as the body can't handle producing so much for others, for so many years.  They would have to quadruple wages for it to to be fair to the workers. This goes for most hard labor basic skill jobs. You can't do the job for a lifetime or if you do, it will be a short lifetime. Employers should have to pay for these costs which is something that folks never talk about. Office jobs, even on the management level, should all be lower paying in comparison. I know life ain't fair, but if it was, this arrangement of wages would be common practice. None of it changes until we start working toward a common purpose rather than towards profit. Once technology has removed all profit margins, then maybe we will be able to move to a more selfless system. 

In reply to by bowie28

Ben A Drill Tue, 08/08/2017 - 15:41 Permalink

I live in California, you can cut the tension with a knife. Illegal's are scared shitless. To the point that if you don't speak Spanish, your the problem. Confrontations are happening daily. Things are about to blow.

If your undocumented then your illegal. Period. End of discussion!

Farmers can go fuck themselves if they think they can get subsidies all the while breaking the law.

Mycroft Holmes IV Ben A Drill Tue, 08/08/2017 - 16:26 Permalink

I'll only wear my Trump is my President shirt when working in the lawn.

One of my neighbors sports a Hillary for Prison bumper sticker, but not sure if he leaves the OC.

We are definitely in occupied territory. Speaking with friends - a lot who are politically aware are looking to get out (especially with SB277 in full effect).

Btw, since SB277 became law, autism rates among kindergarteners has gone up 20%.

We are destroying a generation of children that will forever be dependent upon their families and ultimately the state.

In reply to by Ben A Drill

Retired Guy Mycroft Holmes IV Tue, 08/08/2017 - 23:17 Permalink

Maybe down votes because you didn't say you lived in Calif or mention vaccines. I'm still wondering, what is OC and sb277?I didn't down vote you because while vague you didn't cuss or mention Jews as if they were ALL responsible for the world's mess.I normally ignore those fools because- "don't feed the trolls". Blaming a whole racial group for the sins of a few is what Hitler did and look where that got him. Soon dead and guilty of killing millions of innocents.

In reply to by Mycroft Holmes IV

Dun_Dulind Tue, 08/08/2017 - 15:51 Permalink

Put non-violent criminals to work in the field.  Let them make minimum wage and have it accrue in a trust fund they can access after release.  I'm not talking mandatory here - just make it an option for prisoners to do something other than rot in a cell with zero focus on "Rehabilitation".  Maybe even incentivize by converting hours worked for reduction in time served.Either way... illegals can go fuck off.

crazzziecanuck Dun_Dulind Tue, 08/08/2017 - 17:36 Permalink

This makes superficial sense.The issue is the same after slavery was abolished in the deep south.  In order to get back to economics of slavery, the prison system basically imprisoned any black person they could and forced them to work for free so that some other entity could profit from their free labor.  "Vagrancy" was a big weapon used then.  If you were a black man, and you couldn't prove you weren't homeless, you were thrown in jail.  That crap didn't stop until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.  Vagrancy is a classic non-violent (non)crime.You say that we should have a trust fund redeemable upon release and pay them minimum wage. Well, I expect what will happen is that we will see the use of "fines" imposed upon prisoners to eat that away so that when they were released, there's nothing left.  State legislators will immediately adopt these policies in order to fudge budget numbers.  That's already happening where prisoners are NOT getting what's owed to them through the use of fines.  So, in the end, they'll actually be working for free.But there is another problem.  It's seems kind of stupid that you have to go to prison to get a minimum wage job.  And this kind of force labor is something corporations will be keen to usurp for it's own ends.  That way, it becomes an implied threat to "free" minimum wage workers that they can be quickly replaced, suppress wages and allow working conditions to deteriorate.  This could be mitigated by only allowing this workforce to do overtly public tasks (i.e., the classic license plate), but you'll run into conflict with state workers.  The government now has an incentive to grow the list of public enemies and crimes to help budget matters by enslaving their own populations.Name one time a government has been given a tool and it didn't abuse it?You also have basic logistical problems.  Going to let Bubba convicted of aggravated assault to work behind the counter at a fast food joint?  Or be allowed around dangerous manufacturing equipment inside the prison?  You mentioned "non-violent" crimes.  But there are way too many crimes on the books that are not crimes, and crimes that should be enforced never are, or are in a highly selective sense, usually along income/wealth lines.There is also an even larger problem.  The fact that there just are not enough jobs right now to go around.  A couple years ago, McDonald's had 50,000 or so open positions and received 1,000,000 applications.  People who are "free" and can't get jobs will wonder why on earth does a person in prison have it better than he does.  Worse, people deliberately going to jail so they can pay remittances to their starving familes outside.  Don't laugh, because that's what some homeless people do in colder climates.  Commit a crime with a sentence long enough to be incarcerated.Just a few reasons why prison labor is a bad idea. Too many of the wrong people are in jail.  That's the problem. A better solution might simply be government paying people minimum wage jobs and employing them directly outside of prison.  It's literally way cheaper to pay someone a sh*t minimum wage job than it does to imprison them even in state facilities for a year.  Know who doesn't like that idea?  State prison guard unions.

In reply to by Dun_Dulind