ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The federal government is planning to raise agriculture visa fees for temporary farm workers and create a new fee, worrying West Michigan farmers who rely on migrant workers to bring in their crops.
Depending on the country the worker is from and other factors, some have to be named specifically on H2A temporary agricultural worker visa program applications and others are unnamed. The planned visa fee increase announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would raise named worker fees from $460 to $1,090. Applications for unnamed workers would go up from $460 to $530. The change would also include a new $600 Asylum Program Fee for some applications.
Katie Vargas and her family have been apple growers for generations. Getting the apples ready for sale at Joe Rasch Orchards north of Walker requires a team of about 70 workers.
“We try and recruit as many qualified workers as we can here before we bring people up on visas. In the past five years, I think we’ve only had one person that we’ve been able to hire here domestically,” Vargas said.
The H2A program is designed to help fill the labor shortage in the industry.
“If we didn’t have this program, we wouldn’t have a farm. We have a very, very time sensitive product. It can go from one day to the next of being something that we can sell and something that we can’t,” Vargas said.
Farmers say they are already dealing with an average wage increase of nearly 13% from last year. They say a major fee increase will make it harder to provide apples at a reasonable price.
“We’ve had (a) 76% increase in our costs over the past five years, which is incredible,” Vargas said.
The Michigan Farm Bureau is concerned about the proposed fee increase, John Kran with the national legislative counsel said.
“It’s a lot all at once,” Kran said. “In a lot of cases, it’s doubling, plus adding additional costs on that we haven’t had in the past.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, and a bipartisan group of representatives from Michigan have signed a letter (PDF) calling on Homeland Security to change course.
“There’s one direction that this goes: Higher fees will equal higher prices,” Huizenga said.
Huizenga said the money generated will be used to deal with the massive influx of asylum seekers at the southern border.
“You’re once again seeing law-abiding, rule-abiding folks having to pay for and fund those that are not obeying the law,” Huizenga said.