Possible changes to visa program worry some farmers who rely on foreign labor for harvest

By Janice Podsada, Omaha World-Herald

combineThe prairie’s nomads — for-hire workers who bring in the harvest — are tuning up their combines and semitrailers for the start of the season, a circuit that runs from May through November and crisscrosses the central Plains, from Texas to North Dakota.

Increasingly, those workers aren’t from the United States. Foreign nationals populate the ranks of temporary workers who come to work the fields. One expert estimated that more than half of such workers hail from countries outside the United States.

They toil in the fields alongside U.S. citizens who all work for custom harvesting companies. Farmers who don’t want to invest in expensive harvest equipment rely on these companies and their crews, who time their arrival to coincide with the wheat or corn harvest, among other crops.

Some farmers worry that possible changes to the federal H-2A visa program that allows these temporary workers to come work the harvest could put a crimp in the pipeline of foreign labor they’ve come to depend upon; others say that crimping that pipeline would mean more American workers would have a chance at such jobs. Read more …