When the immigration bill fell short in the Senate, most likely killing any chance of passing it this year, so did the AgJobs provision that would offer legal residence for as many as 1.5 million farm workers. This is leaving many grain-cutting crews understaffed, and while the wheat harvest was 62% finished on July 1, 2006, this year it is only at 40%.
Around 2,500 skilled, legal, English-speaking immigrants come to help harvest about a third of U.S. wheat. Last year, 1,054 South Africans received H2A visas to help ease the slipping domestic worker supply.
Greg Thurman, a Burlington, Oklahoma-based harvester who employs workers from New Zealand, Australia and Denmark, says the wage is less than what a U.S. worker with mechanical skills and a trucking license can make doing something else.
"Any American who would be good at this can find something with better hours and holidays off,'' he says in a Bloomberg report.
The immigration bill included provisions that would have relaxed rules limiting how many foreign workers the harvesters can hire. Efforts to revise those regulations were caught up in the fight over illegal Hispanic migration, which largely focuses on border security.
AgJobs would have also eased ad requirements, reduced paperwork that delays visas, and permitted employers to give workers housing allowances rather than housing, saving costs.