The process to certify immigrants to work in the United States needs to be streamlined, particularly for farmers who risk losing their investment waiting for paperwork to go through when time is of the essence.
As a Central Illinois farmer, I understand the frustrations of many of the growers using the process to acquire migrant help. I have heard many people say, and I certainly agree, we should hire Americans first. These days, it’s difficult to find U.S. workers with farming skills.
A farmer needs migrant, temporary workers when the crops mature. A farmer cannot wait for paperwork to move slowly through the process. The work is temporary often lasting only one to three weeks.
Employers want speed, stamina and endurance which are tallied by the workers’ “pick rate.” Like all employers, farmers prefer experience. Apple and orange pickers climb and descend ladders lugging sacks weighing 20 to 30 pounds. Asparagus pickers bend, dig and snip stalks below the surface of the ground. Highly productive, experienced migrant farm personnel are valued.
Crops mature at different rates — it is necessary to move as the crops ripen. Temporary, highly mobile work does not appeal to many Americans. Currently billions of dollars of crops rot because of a shortage of available labor. Tightened immigration laws will only make this problem worse. The problem hits all of America by raising the costs of our food, including our meats.
Migrant farmers are vital to the agriculture industry. A system should be developed to allow vital labor to enter and exit this country with ease. I believe separating the migrant system from the visa certification system applying to skilled labor would be the first step in mitigating this issue.
Charlene Turczyn, co-owner of Turczyn Farms in Central Illinois, is involved in agricultural issues in the Midwest farming community. She also is founder and CEO of CMW and Associates Corporation, a consulting firm that provides information technology and construction management services to the federal government.