Immigration Reform Needed Now, Not Later, For American Food Chain to Remain Intact Industry Leaders Say

Industry leaders involved in all aspects of America’s food supply met in Provo to discuss the immediate need for immigration reform and how the current system negatively impacts the U.S.’s food industry. 


Staffers from the offices Representative Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart met representatives from the Utah Farm Bureau, Utah Manufacturers Association, Utah Food Retailers Association and Utah Restaurant Association to further the dialogue of the critical need for immigration reform in the U.S.

In addition, Utah farmers and ranchers, including Jake Harward from Springville, discussed how the current system for employing workers is not just fractured, but broken, due to a drastic shortage of workers willing or able to work on farms.

In response to the worries of the public that hiring immigrant workers may be taking job opportunities from U.S. workers, Harward said despite extensive advertising and wages well above minimum wage, U.S. workers are simply not interested in working in agriculture.

“The argument that we’re taking jobs away from others just doesn’t fly in my mind,” Harward said. Harward grows sweet corn, pumpkins and other row crop vegetables and fruits in Utah County.

Officials discussed how the current H-2A Visa Program designed for farmers and ranchers to legally employ immigrant workers is costly, bureaucratic and highly complicated to implement. The process is especially difficult for farmers and ranchers to successfully execute without penalties for minor technical errors.

The H-2A program costs farmers millions of dollars in lost revenue. Many workers arrive to the U.S. an average of 22 days late due to bureaucratic delays, according to a national survey by the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE). This translated to nearly $320 million in lost revenue nationally.

According to Melva Sine, President of the Utah Restaurant Association, the issues regarding immigrant workers in agriculture trickle down to all aspects of today’s food industry, from what can actually be produced to the cost of the product.

Without reliable, legal immigrant labor, the number of dairy farms would drop by 4,532. This would reduce milk production by 29.5 billion pounds and raise milk prices by about 61 percent, according to a 2012 Texas A&M University study.

“If there aren’t enough workers when they’re planting the seeds, we’re never going to see the blossom of the flower,” Sine said. “Immigration touches the life of every American. Immigrants flock to the restaurant industry because it represents a uniquely powerful option for economic advancement. Eighty percent of restaurant owners started out as hourly employees. The industry gives individuals of all backgrounds the chance to achieve the American dream. But without meaningful immigration reform, this industry — and many others — simply can’t continue to contribute to the economy as it does today.”

Each of the 1.6 million hired farm employees who work on American farms and ranches support about two to three full-time jobs within the food chain through processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors. Todd Bingham, President of the Utah Manufacturers Association, stressed the importance immigrant workers play in the U.S. workforce.

“The manufacturing industry has struggled to keep jobs in the U.S.  Immigrants play a key role in keeping and creating more manufacturing jobs,” Bingham said. “Reforming our broken immigration system will allow us to retain and revitalize more communities that rely on manufacturing jobs. I urge Congress to get immigration reform completed this year.”

While comprehensive immigration reform was taken up earlier in the year by the U.S. Senate, it has remained stalled in the House. Each of the industries represented today are hopeful a resolution to obstacles of House leadership can be met to push reform measures through in the current session of Congress.