A coalition of business groups in the farming and construction industry is calling on Congressional leaders to make immigration reform a priority—particularly immigration visas.
Bayshore Solutions’ Vice President and COO Rick Watson says he’d like to see the expansion of what’s called the H-2B visa program, which allows non-agricultural employers to hire immigrants to come to the U.S. temporarily.
“The way it’s now is it’s tedious and time consuming, and it’s expensive and largely unworkable for the construction industry,” said Watson. “The current cap is only for 66,000 visas for each fiscal year. So, we need to simplify the project, expand the cap, and see if this project will work better for construction.”
Steve Johnson is the owner of Johnson Harvesting and the Florida Farm Bureau’s Labor Advisory Chair. He says he’d also like to see similar immigration visa reform in the H-2A program for hiring foreign agricultural workers to help create a stable workforce at a cost savings.
“Well, being in the harvesting business, we depend on seasonal labor—I mean that is what we do—and it’s hard to get anyone to come in,” said Johnson. “Currently, the H-2A program is so cumbersome, and it’s so expensive, it makes it very difficult. So, for us to get a visa program where we can just put in an order, per se, and get the ideas over to do what we need them to do, and get them back is a huge cost advantage for us.”
To illustrate the need, Johnson says citrus greening—the bacteria that has destroyed thousands of the state’s citrus crops—has actually been a good thing for him.
“Greening has actually helped the labor situation because we’ve got less to pick. However, the flip side of that is if we find the cure for greening, or a band aid for greening, we’re going to have a labor shortage tremendously,” he added.
Other suggestions included doing more work on the temporary guest worker program.
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