Michigan Farm Bureau is pushing back on a proposal by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to increase filing fees for H-2A and H-2B petitions.
USCIS wants to increase the fees for H-2A and H-2B petitions by 137% and 135%, respectively. The proposal would also cap each petition at 25 workers — meaning employers with larger guest-worker needs could be hit with fees multiple times.
Under the plan, the current I-129 fee for H-2A application would rise from $460 to $1,090.
USCIS also wants to add a $600 application fee to fund the government’s asylum program for people seeking shelter in the U.S. MFB asserted in its recent comments to USCIS that farmers shouldn’t be forced to pay for a program that's not related to agriculture, and that the costs for any asylum program should be appropriated through Congress and paid out of the Treasury.
“The U.S. government must prioritize the health and vitality of its agriculture to ensure the same of its people and its security, lest we accede to our reliance upon a foreign power’s food supply. It prioritizes none of the above with this proposal,” MFB wrote in its comments to USCIS.
MFB noted the H-2A program is a critical part of the country’s national security profile and is at considerable risk if it cannot feed itself. Sixty-five percent of the fresh fruit and a 35% of the fresh vegetables consumed in America are produced somewhere, according to USDA.
The USCIS proposal is another blow to farmers who rely on the guest-worker program as a source of reliable labor as costs continue to skyrocket, with the Department of Labor (DOL) largely ignoring recent concerns of farmers when it published its final rule on how it will determine the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) for certain positions within the H-2A program.
Labor already accounts for nearly 40% of total production costs on some farms, according to AFBF. Michigan’s AEWR will rise 12.8% this year to $17.34 per hour.
That came just months after the DOL released a massive overhaul of H-2A rules, making complex — and costly — changes to joint employment regulations and adding new hurdles for labor contractors.
Under the USCIS proposal, H-2B filing costs would rise from $460 to $1,080 for named beneficiaries and from $460 to $580 for unnamed beneficiaries. Though categorized as a non-agricultural temporary visa program, MFB National Legislative Counsel John Kran noted the agricultural sector relies on a strong H-2B program for crucial processing functions in certain supply chains, including nurseries.
“America’s farmers and ranchers, and the workers under their employ, are the lifeblood of rural America. They sustain the nation’s food supply, and feed much of the world. They consistently deliver a quality product to consumers that is safe, nutritious, and free from pest and disease,” MFB wrote.
“They preserve the natural resources of this country, leaving the soil and water cleaner than they found it. They cannot provide these benefits, and others, without the ability to be sustainable as a business. This proposal, if implemented, will compromise that essential task.”