The farmers who make up Florida’s $8 billion agricultural industry are leading a call to action on Congress to follow through on promises for a meaningful immigration reform bill.
Last year we saw progress on this pivotal issue, and now it is time for Congress to act. The current system needs an overhaul. Bipartisan immigration reform must include enhanced border security, a fair and streamlined system of legal immigration and a guest worker visa program that will expand the flexibility of our nation’s labor force and grow our economy, while also reaffirming our commitment to building an innovative workforce for the future.
For farmers who have been awaiting reforms for years, they know all too well the consequences of living with outdated immigration laws. Our industry has long been a beneficiary of immigrant labor, and a government-sponsored worker visa program presently exists to assist in employing farm workers.
The H-2A visa was designed to give farmers experiencing labor shortages an avenue to hire immigrant workers. Employers using the visa program must go to great expense to fulfill the requirements, and in turn find the program not flexible enough to fit agriculture. For many farmers, the cost and risk is simply not worthwhile.
As a result, we have come to rely on immigrant labor — 70 percent of which is in undocumented status. Regardless of status, this experienced workforce is integral to our farms and losing it, with no access to a replacement labor force, would be devastating to the industry.