Immigration Reform and Agricultural Labor Supply

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America’s wine industry needs affordable and reliable agricultural labor to achieve the quality expectations of winemakers and consumers.

Many growing operations depend on the availability of foreign migrant workers, but the current visa program for agricultural workers does not adequately respond to the shortage in the labor supply.  Under the current H-2A guest worker program, the wine industry does not have the stable workforce necessary to make these key business decisions: only 2% of wine grape growers and winery operators are able to use that program.

It is generally accepted that the agricultural sector is unique:

  • Work is rurally based
  • Work is seasonally active
  • Employees are migratory
  • Products are perishable

More than 2 million workers contribute time as farm workers.  Nearly 70% are undocumented. No other workforce comes close to a comparable number of undocumented workers.  Still, the sector’s labor demand is not met.

Effective immigration reform must address our current workforce and create a new guest worker program to meet future needs. Agriculture supports millions of jobs both on and off the farm.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 1147, on March 3 by a vote of 20-13. This bill, authored by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), would require U.S. employers to check the work eligibility of all new hires through the E-Verify system.  Although agricultural employers agree with the need to strengthen worker documentation, taking these steps before addressing the current workforce gap and the need for a workable guest worker program is unacceptable.  An enforcement-only approach ignores the rest of our immigration problems and threatens to devastate the farm economy.  Growers are careful to follow the federal government’s requirements for checking employment documents, and will continue to do so. But e-Verify by itself puts the onus on farmers and ranchers who are already hard pressed to find skilled workers.

WineAmerica urges House leadership not to bring H.R.1147 to the House floor for consideration unless and until it is paired with acceptable reform legislation that provides earned legal status for experienced workers in our industry, and creates a modernized visa program to meet future needs.

WineAmerica urges all Members of Congress to commit to securing the future of U.S. agriculture by ensuring a stable workforce and we oppose efforts to implement mandatory e-Verify before Congress addresses comprehensive immigration reform.

Update: 4/16/2015

Questions? Contact Michael Kasier at mkaiser@wineamerica.org.