With unemployment in his state at 8.5 percent and visa requirements for seasonal workers becoming more frustrating, Colorado farmer John Harold decided to hire fewer migrant farm workers for his harvest this summer and supplement his smaller-than-usual team with locals.
How did it go? The New York Times reports:
Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason. Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard. On the Harold farm, pickers walk the rows alongside a huge harvest vehicle called a mule train, plucking ears of corn and handing them up to workers on the mule who box them and lift the crates, each weighing 45 to 50 pounds.
Other farmers in the area that the Times talked to reported similar experiences. And it's not like the local workers they were hiring were a bunch of hipster weaklings. According to area farmers, most of the local hires were Hispanics who probably had a history of doing farm work while they were new immigrants until finding better work in construction or landscaping.
The H-2A seasonal foreign worker visa program administered by Citizenship and Immigration Services raised minimum wage by $2.50 per hour this year, to $10.50, which Harold said affected his hiring decisions. And the program has stiff requirements before farmers can even opt into it. Potential employers have to "demonstrate that there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work" and show that hiring temporary foreign workers won't adversely affect U.S. workers in similar positions. A Colorado State professor quoted by the Times said that “the only way to offer proof [that there aren't enough U.S. workers to do farm work] is to literally have a field left unharvested.”
Or maybe having dozens of locals walk off the job will satisfy the feds.
Read about how other states recent immigration laws hurt farmers and migrant workers here, and see Reason.tv below on how federal immigration policy harms the agriculture industry in California's Central Valley: