Migrant worker shortage could hurt Pennsylvania orchards

Local

There’s a migrant worker shorter that could have an impact on Midstate fruit orchards. 

Farmers say a government program is helping, but it’s also coming up short.

Local farmers who rely on an annual influx of migrant workers from places like Mexico and South America are finding fewer people available. It is a trend the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau says has been getting worse for about five years.

“Certainly, there has been an increase in enforcement. A lot of people who don’t feel welcome, they don’t come anymore,” said Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. 

O’Neill said even documented workers are finding options beyond the orchards, including lots of post-hurricane construction jobs in the South.

There is still an army of migrant manpower waiting that farmers can hire through the federal H2-A, a temporary work visa program. Most farmers agree the H2-A visa program is a good one when it works, but it has limitations. That’s why there’s a continued effort to replace it.

While H2-A limits temporary workers to a nine-month stay in the U.S., a proposed H2-C visa would allow for up to a three-year stay. It is also meant to help understaffed Pennsylvania dairy and mushroom farms find an adequate workforce with less red tape.

Without change, the Farm Bureau says American fruit could simply end up on the ground and something else ends up on the table.

“Do Americans want American food that’s picked by foreign workers or do they want foreign food that’s picked by foreign workers?” O’Neill said.

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