Agricultural guestworker program under review in DC

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- A visa program critical to many U.S. farmers is under review in Washington.

Some say the agriculture industry needs relief from regulatory burdens. Others argue those proposed changes would be a blow to American workers.

This time of year, Jaime Williams' Virginia farm is barren in the bitter cold of winter.

But during the growing season, Turkey Knob Growers outside Harrisonburg flourishes - apples, peaches and more. All that produce requires long days in the fields.

“H-2A visa program means staying in business," Williams, the president of Turkey Knob, explains.

The H-2A visa program allows farmers to hire temporary foreign workers. Williams says they advertise these openings to U.S. workers, but get few bites.

"These workers are harvesting 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of apples today. We do not find Americans that want to do this sort of work," said Williams.

Williams says the program ensures the job gets done but it costs time and cash.

GOP Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter is putting pressure on the Trump administration to streamline barriers for farmers.

"These crops have to come out of the fields when they’re ripe and if you don’t get ‘em done then, then you lose your crop and that has obviously a domino effect on our whole country," said Carter.

But some – like Matthew O'Brien at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – say easing regulations would mean fewer jobs to go around for domestic workers.

O'Brien, the director of research at FAIR, says the president pledged to bring American jobs back, and argues making it easier for foreign employees to work on farms doesn’t accomplish that goal.

"We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the United States to create an underclass of people who are not citizens and are only paid low wages – it’s bad for the economy and it’s bad for the country," said O'Brien.

Virginia Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte argues this visa program is flawed and needs to be rebuilt from scratch, so he has a bill to do just that. That proposal could get a vote on the House floor soon.

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