To Eastern and Central Washington agriculture is essential. Our farmers desperately need a migrant workforce as they battle worker shortage. Our citizens deserve reduction in tax burden and policy that mitigates rising food cost. The demonstration of loyalty, productivity, family values and adherence to law should provide for framework for access to work permits and pathways to possible residency as this service is absolutely vital to providing food chains throughout the country. We can solve this without loss of citizen jobs and with humane treatment of this valued workforce.
Growing up in Eastern Washington I knew many migrant workers and families as neighbors and friends. They share our core values of hard work, loyalty, and family. Washington depends on their service. Agriculture values their work greatly. Strong stances on border safety and security do not equate to failing to address immigration policy that results in loss of our long-term migrant agricultural workforce. Washington relies on this workforce to sustain provision of vital food chains locally and nationwide. These are people; neighbors and friends, that provide food for our families year after year. We must create a sustainable and equitable plan that does not limit jobs for American Citizens, does not result in tax or food cost increase, and that offers clear pathways for this population.
Nearly all sectors of our agricultural industry are dependent on both illegal immigrants and small amounts of H-2A visa workers. H-2A/B visa’s short-term duration rules limit employers the ability to access this critical workforce year-round. In addition, there is no clear pathway for present migrant workers to obtain any form of work permit or eventual residency despite their continued loyalty and provision of vital services to Washington agriculture year after year. The inability to obtain work permits creates disparity which results in increased state spending for healthcare and other social services, which in turn raises taxes for our current citizens. Lack of their service results in rising food cost. We can reduce taxes to citizens and simultaneously ensure ongoing existence of this workforce and humane treatment of families with reform.
H-2A visa programs have resulted in a statically significant decrease in illegal entry and have benefited efforts of ongoing border security with increased compliance. H-2A programs do not allow jobs to be taken from citizens. H-2A program enforce priority application and placement to citizens first and then are filled based on need after a 30-60 day open period for citizen application. We can build on this and do more, expanding the provision to ensure ongoing year-round workforce to our agricultural community and modeling streamlined pathways for work permits and residency.