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Visas for Foreign Agriculture Workers?


Mar 15, 2017


The Economist on January 28th reported on a program to import indentured workers from Haiti for a farm in Alabama.  Jon Hegeman who operates a small nursery found difficulty in finding laborers to pot plants and work in greenhouses. 

He was introduced to a program operated by Protect the People which focuses on alleviation of poverty in nations subjected to climatic extremes and earthquakes.  By using the leverage provided by the charity, visas were issued to eight workers from Haiti.


A study conducted by the Centre for Global Development documented the financial advantage of migrating to the U.S. to undertake manual labor compared to fellow citizens of Haiti who had no alternative but to remain in their native country. The monthly income of the migrants was approximately 1,400 percent higher than those that remained and most of the U.S. earnings were remitted back to families in Haiti. Apparently, a similar scheme offers temporary agriculture work in New Zealand to islanders of Tonga and Vanuatu and is regarded as an effective development policy by the World Bank.

The real issue is why is Jon Hegeman was forced to import temporary workers to carry out unskilled work paying close to $11.00 per hour. Were there no abled-bodied recipients of welfare in rural Alabama who would otherwise be available to work?  Should the Federal and state governments develop incentive schemes for farmers and employers to build acceptable housing to allow current welfare recipients to move from urban blighted areas to where employment is available. After all, there was a migration ten years ago to the oil fields of North Dakota in response to a demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers, many of whom were displaced from offshore oil installations in the Gulf and expatriate positions in the Gulf.

Erection of poultry processing plants in rural areas attracts applicants from among residents within commuting distance.  This is evidenced by the wide ratio of applicants compared to available jobs offered by Sanderson Farms in their new Saint Pauls NC. plant.  Is the difference between the Alabama farm of Jon Hegeman and the Saint Pauls plant established by Sanderson Farms a function of available workers living in the vicinity of a job opportunity?  If this is the case, programs to facilitate relocation and housing may reduce the need for foreign agricultural workers and at the same time shrink the welfare rolls.

During the Great Depression, displaced sharecroppers and disposed farmers migrated west to California and Oregon to work in orchards, vineyards and vegetable farms since there was little or no welfare available other than the WPA.  Perhaps both our politicians and welfare recipients should read John Steinbeck.


Copyright 2017 Simon M. Shane