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Demand For Immigrant Worker Program Grows In Southern Idaho

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Grapes are one of a number of crops where Idaho farms have turned to H-2A visas to get labor.

At a time when the national immigration debate still swirls, Idaho’s need for seasonal agricultural work is rising. According to the Capital Press, the number of H-2A guest workers in the state could increase significantly.

The paper spoke with Jennifer Uranga with Mountain West Ag Consulting, who specializes in the worker program.

"Total applications from Idaho agricultural businesses seeking H-2A workers increased 32 percent from fiscal year 2015 to 2017, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. Most of those applications were from Southern Idaho producers. 'I think that number is going to continue to grow,' Uranga said. 'I think there is going to be an explosion.' " -- Capital Press

But Uranga says a lack of housing is slowing the trend somewhat, as farms need to provide workers with a place to live.

At the Idaho State Horticultural Society’s meeting earlier this month, the question of how to fill those labor-intensive jobs came up again and again.

“The tight labor pool in Southern Idaho is the result of a couple factors, said Chad Henggeler, field manager for Henggeler Packing Co., one of the state’s largest fruit orchards. The state’s unemployment rate was a historically low 2.8 percent in September and a lot of labor-intensive farm commodities such as wine grapes, fruit, hops and seed crops are produced in the region.' The labor pool in the last five years has really dried up,' said Henggeler, who brought in 100 H-2A workers this year. 'Our only choice is to bring in workers from a foreign country on a worker guest visa.' ”

The growth in interest for the H-2A visa is not confined to Idaho. NPR reported earlier this year that the U.S. Department of Labor approved 36 percent more applications in the first three months of 2017 than it did during the same period of time in 2016.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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