US horticulture adviser assesses impact of Trump presidency on labour issue

AmericanHort senior vice president industry advocacy and research Craig Regelbrugge has advised the US horticulture industry on political changes following Donald Trump's election as president, with migrant labour a big issue.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Regelbrugge suggested the election result revealed "deep economic and cultural anxieties and a sense that 'government is working against me, not for me.'"

He said come 2017, many see business-friendly opportunity on the horizon, with significant infrastructure spending and tax reform a distinct possibility. 

Regelbrugge said: "A cautionary note. Ours is an industry substantially reliant on foreign-born labor. It runs the gamut – citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary and seasonal visa holders, refugees, and (presumably), quite a few unauthorized workers whose employment documents aren’t as good as they look.

"Trump wasn’t elected on the immigration issue, but regardless of how you feel about it, his campaign rhetoric resonated with voters who have lost faith in their government and believe in the rule of law. So what happens next on this critical issue? The Trump transition team have called for tougher, some would say heavy-handed, immigration laws. Early moves will surely be enforcement-centric. Trump’s calls for a border wall and tripling the number of immigration enforcement agents won’t happen all that quickly; these things require major funding, and involve Congress. That takes time. As would imposing mandatory E-Verify, which Trump has supported.

"But some things could be done sooner, and within current resources. He could rescind the Obama executive actions granting deferred action, such as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, or limiting refugee admissions, for instance. While these aren’t often seen as business issues, there are many DACA recipients and a growing number of people admitted as refugees now employed in horticulture.

"A Trump administration could also return to the practice of worksite enforcement, whether that means raids, or I-9 audits, substantially worsening the labor challenges already facing many horticulture businesses. Screening practices for visa applicants abroad could change, slowing the already-clogged pipeline for H-2A and B worker admission during peak seasons. Perhaps there will be some openings for positive visa program reforms, but it’ll be defense more than offense for the foreseeable future."

He also drew parallels with the UK's post-Brexit labour issue. In the UK, post Brexit, Defra is trying to assess the number of horticulture workers from outside the UK, a move which may help to forge policy on a new Seasonal Agriculture Workers Scheme or other scheme to allow foreign labour to work in UK horticulture or agriculture. The NFU has lobbied for a "substantial" work permit scheme to come in for 2017. The UK Office for National Statistics said the number of migrants born in Eastern Europe employed in Britain rose by 49,000 between July and September to 1,077,000.

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