Arizona which has been a national leader in state-directed initiatives to combat illegal migration is now trying to address the other half of the problem–getting the economy the workers it needs. There are an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 illegal immigrants working on American farms, but only 75,000 legal H-2A workers according to the Department of Labor. Federal regulatory measures are overly bureaucratic and in need of major reform. As a result, the state of Arizona has recently suggested taking matters into its own hands and proposed the idea of a state-created and run guest worker program.
As reported by The Christian Science Monitor, the proposed Arizona initiative would reduce federal red tape by enabling employers to send only one application to one department rather than the three different departments requiring paperwork with the federal H-2A program. Once confirmed that Arizona cannot fulfill the employers requested need for workers, the employer can turn to Mexico where potential employees can receive approval from the US consulate and employment cards to work in the US for up to two years.
While states are a great place to test out programs like these, Arizona’s program needs federal approval first. States can serve as laboratories for implementing these types of pilot programs and reforms. Overall, the federal government must work to make the H-2A program more flexible and practical for the whole nation while reinforcing security measures. Wages for H-2A employees must be adjusted to better represent the market and avoid inflation that inhibits employers from utilizing the program. Further, employers should be allowed to hire nonimmigrant workers for up to 120 days while waiting for a petition to be approved. And to ensure that H-2A workers do not overstay their visas, the government needs to establish a pilot land-border exit program for guest workers.
This sort of flexible H-2A Visa program is necessary and effective. More essential reforms include streamlining the application process as Arizona proposed by reducing the number of departments requiring separate petitions. Also, once the voluntary exit system is implemented, employers should have to put up a bond to ensure that H-2A workers exit the country before their visas expire. As it stands currently, the H-2A Visa program is too limited and bureaucratic. The reforms suggested above should be a government priority. More detailed explanations can be found in the Heritage WebMemo, “Help Wanted: Administration Proposes Needed Changes in the H-2A Visa Program.”