Farmers await possible action by President Trump on visas for temporary workers

The president’s son Eric Trump in the vineyard at Trump Winery on July 20, 2011. It has sought 29 temporary immigrant workers since December 2016 to help prune its vineyards. (Jack Looney)The vineyards and fields of Virginia are busy in spring, as farmworkers prepare the seeds, soil and seedlings for the growing season ahead. About 3,300 of those laborers are foreign seasonal workers, who arrived on a temporary visa with the bureaucratic name of H-2A.

The number of H-2A visas granted nationally has doubled in the past five years as farmers have sought reliable labor for jobs that they say are shunned by Americans. Farmers complain that the program is expensive, cumbersome and essential to their enterprises.

But the visa program’s future is unclear as the Trump administration considers how to reform national immigration policies.

One factor in its favor: The Trump Winery in Charlottesville has sought 29 temporary immigrant workers since December to help prune its vineyards. When news of the applications first broke, the outrage expressed by those who remembered the president’s pledge to “hire American” was predictable.

But the winery, whose manager did not respond to requests for comment, was just doing what thousands of other agricultural enterprises have done: using a well-established 31-year-old visa system to find people willing to do the grueling work necessary to plant, grow and harvest crops.

“I don’t know what we’d do without it,” said Linda Clark, general manager of the Grace Estate Winery in Crozet, Va., which employs five H-2A visa workers this season, four of whom have come from Mexico every year for the past five years. The Americans she has hired over the years leave after a week or a month, and in the past two or three years, no American has applied for the jobs she has, she said. “I want the public to know these workers are not taking Americans’ jobs.”

By Patricia Sullivan for The Washington Post
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