Making Hay: Farmers Push for Expanded Guest Worker Program

Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration have just released a massive immigration reform proposal, and already some stakeholders are latching on to get their piece of the action. The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation has written a piece on the group's website calling for an expansion of a guest worker visa program as part of any immigration bill. The piece states the bureau "is ready to work with the Administration and Congress to bring these long overdue reforms to our guest worker program."

The bureau is essentially offering to deal with Democrats in exchange for supporting the larger bill, which is typical of big business, according to Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "They want to make sure that they have an unending supply of controllable, cheap labor, instead of having to compete for workers," says Krikorian.

"There's already an unlimited guest worker program for farmers, but there are requirements," he continues. "They have to provide housing and transportation, and the farmers don't want to do that...well, too bad."

Increased reliance on migrant labor is not only cheaper for farms, but it keeps them from having to negotiate stronger workplace accommodations and safety standards. "Big agri-business is only able to get away with things like that because it has this supply of cheap labor," says Krikorian. "And if that supply is increased, they're just going to be able to get away with more."

The fate of the immigration bill is still unknown, with months of horse trading on issues like this likely ahead. But Krikorian believes American workers and consumers would be better served if the industry would take steps to better attract and keep workers. "Instead, the preferred avenue is always to pay lobbyists to try to get Congress to give them more workers who are cheap, controllable, and ideally don't require any kind of benefits on the part of the employer," he says.

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