Great Lakes Ag Labor Services (GLALS), founded by Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) in 2015 to aid Michigan farmers in utilizing the H-2A Seasonal Guestworker program, was in the national spotlight during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans.
In a farm labor educational session presentation, GLALS General Manager Bob Boehm discussed services provided to help farmers navigate the difficult and cumbersome H-2A visa program, which has experienced massive growth over the past decade due to political reluctance to pass genuine immigration reform.
With no alternatives, more specialty crop growers are turning to H2A, despite the cost and complicated regulatory process. According to Boehm, the number of H2A visas being issued to temporary workers has grown 500 percent nationwide. Even so, worker demand is still surpassing the supply.
“The services we provide through GLALS has let our farmers take on new contracts and plant more because they no longer have to worry about whether they will have the workers necessary at harvest,” Boehm said.
As a revenue-neutral business, GLALS helps its users with the bureaucratic and regulatory portions of the program.
“Our services include a pre-approved management review, aid with paperwork and processing, educational meetings, recruitment and transportation, domestic recruitment and worker reimbursement and training,” Boehm added.
Leon Sequeira, a private attorney with LRS Law, discussed how efforts to overhaul the current system received a major blow when Congress failed to pass H.R. 4092 (Agricultural Guestworker Act or the AG Act) in 2018.
The bill addressed many of the concerns farmers have with the current system. It would have implemented multi-year visas, a broader definition of what industries are eligible and streamlined the application process.
Unfortunately, the bill got caught up in the unresolved battle to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and was never brought to the floor as a standalone bill. Other opportunities to ease the burden that current laws place on farmers has also fallen short.
A Department of Labor (DOL) proposal to “streamline” the system was due in December 2018 but has not materialized. The other major change in 2018 was an Agriculture Department proposal to change the advertisement requirement for the program from newspapers to the internet.
Sequeira offered little hope for headway on the issue in 2019. The new makeup of Congress, the start of the 2020 campaign season and an understaffed DOL make progress on the issue unlikely. One of the biggest obstacles to changing the system is a divide among the users of the current H-2A program on how to address the labor shortage.
“There is a debate on whether to legalize the current group of agriculture laborers, who lack documented status, or to bring in more workers with a streamlined visa program,” Sequeira said. “It is a battle between the West Coast, where that pool of undocumented workers is large, and the rest of the nation where it is lacking.”