“H2A is a very good program if you can afford it. This- the federal government says that the minimum wage for a H2A worker is $9.11 and you provide transportation and you provide housing and you cover all the visa costs. It ends up costing you about $13.50 per employee per hour for those operations. If we could all drive Cadillacs it’d be great, but everyone can’t drive a Cadillac. Some people can, others can’t. So we don’t need a Cadillac system and, and that’s what the, the H2A system is a Cadillac system.” Bryan Tolar to the Georgia House Judiciary Committee (non-civil), Feb. 2011
Bryan Tolar was president of Georgia Agribusiness Council in 2011 when HB 87 was going through the committee process and eventually passed and was signed into law in Georgia. Georgia has two E-Verify laws. One for private employers and one for public contractors and taxpayer-funded entities like cities, counties and other offices, including state agencies. Neither law is enforced. We challenge anyone to produce evidence of any sanction for violation.
Related: What is the H2A visa? (it’s no-cap access to legal foreign workers for growers)
Cost to me: $16.10
BigAg lobbyist Bryan Tolar (00:01)
This is a very delicate issue for agriculture because being the largest industry and representing, uh, economic impact in all 159 counties, we have a lot at stake in this. We are in the midst of trying to grow our industry in several ways. One of which, and we’ve heard the, the governor talk about it and many of you have probably weighed in on it, the expansion of the port in Savannah. We want those large container ships to come to Georgia to carry agricultural products out, not bring agricultural products in. And the system that we have in place now with the, with the technology that’s in place, with the natural resources that are abundant to our great state, we are poised to grow this industry because commodity prices have finally reached a point where people are sta- talking about what do I have to plant to make a profit, but what can I plant so I can make the most profit.
BigAg lobbyist Bryan Tolar (00:51)
And when we look at that, we need to have a labor force to be able to harvest that product. And we want, obviously, want to utilize and do utilize a legal workforce. The federal government puts in place a pa- the parameters for hiring a legal workforce. If we have employers now, whether they’re agricultural or otherwise, that are not completing the I-9, then they’re already in violation of federal law. We can’t help them, this bill can’t help them, I’m not going to try to help them. But when we look at the e-verify portion, that really is the part of the bill that gives us the, the most challenge. And I, I, I- you’ve heard from others and there’s, there’s certainly different parts to give people challenges of their own. But for ours, it’s, it’s the e-verify requirement and I, and I apologize, I have not seen the latest draft to know where we are on the e-verify part, so, um, I’ll, I’ll wait to get details on that later.
BigAg lobbyist Bryan Tolar (01:35)
But if we require the e-verify, then we are putting another layer of government on an already challenged workforce that’s out there for agricultural production. And I’m talking getting your hands dirty workforce. Um, um, very difficult to find those workers no matter where you are. And over two-thirds of our counties, agriculture’s either the number one or the number two industry in those counties. So we’re not talking about small, small beans here. We’re talking about real economic impact. So as we move forward, we need to see- and it is a federal issue. I know you’ve heard that time and time again, it is a federal issue. And Representative Franklin, I’ll, I’ll say that- and I heard your comment earlier about the constitution that we don’t have any Georgia citizens, they are also US citizens. And so we have to operate- ’cause the US is the one that provides us- federal government provides us the visas that we need to get those workers in a guest worker program to pr- to get those citizenship papers so that we can have those legal citizens here.
BigAg lobbyist Bryan Tolar (02:26)
And that’s what, that’s what we’re trying to comply with. We’re trying to comply with a federal system that also provides a federal outlet through visa programs through H2A, which many of you may be familiar with, and H2B and I’ll touch on them very quickly. H2A is a very good program if you can afford it. This- the federal government says that the minimum wage for a H2A worker is $9.11 and you provide transportation and you provide housing and you cover all the visa costs. It ends up costing you about $13.50 per employee per hour for those operations. If we could all drive Cadillacs it’d be great, but everyone can’t drive a Cadillac. Some people can, others can’t. So we don’t need a Cadillac system and, and that’s what the, the H2A system is a Cadillac system. Now let’s talk about H2B. That’s really where we get to our landscape workers, our urban agriculture, the environment we’re in right now.
BigAg lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (03:15)
That is- that program is capped by the federal government was capped in 1990 with 66,000 visas nationwide. In 2004, we reached the cap of that. We can’t expand it. The state of Georgia can’t expand that cap. All we can do is apply for it and hope like heck that we get the workers, ’cause if we don’t, you’re out of business. And if we’re out of business, if we take a $68.8 billion industry and we take a just a 10% hit, we’re talking almost a $7 billion hit to Georgia’s economy. And that’s real. And when those- whe- and when those farming operations and when those landscapers, when they go away, they don’t come back, especially in rural Georgia. It’s that much more difficult if you’re trying to harvest a crop or if you’re trying to milk a cow or you’re trying to care for chickens, it’s a very diverse industry, it’s a very complex industry. This problem is a, is a very complex problem and it requires a federal solution.
BigAg lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (04:08)
But we understand immigration reform needs to happen and we understand there are things the state of Georgia can do and we recognize that this legislation carries a lot of different components in it that will serve the state of Georgia and will serve the state of Georgia well. But, but we take the biggest challenge in this legislation is with the e-verify part and mandating that on private employers. And at that point, Ms. Chairman, I’ll take any questions.
Committee Chairman: (04:29)
Let me, uh, let me ask you a, a question that warrants a probably a 10 to 15 minute answer about-
Committee Chairman: (04:36)
[crosstalk 00:04:36] Okay, well I won’t do that.
Committee Chairman: (04:37)
But I’m going to ask you to do it in 30 seconds.
Committee Chairman: (04:37)
Committee Chairman: (04:38)
Very reasonably, I think.
Big Ag lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (04:39)
Committee Chairman: (04:42)
W- where’s the line? Where’s the line between those folks in the agricultural community who this perhaps not as big a deal and where- with the folks that where it is? In other words, where is that line of the, you know, where compliance with, uh, with H2A and e-verify and everything that you talked about, what’s the comfort level? And I understand that’s something of a subjective determination and, you know, in our minds we take an oath to support and defend and protect the law.
Big Ag lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (05:12)
Committee Chairman: (05:13)
Um, and we all take it seriously. I’m a little concerned about the fact that what I’m hearing is a message from you that says, “Well, we should enforce the law and protect the law and adhere to it, but only if we can afford it.” And that’s what I think I’m hearing. Tell me if I’m hearing something differently. And then tell me about who is it in your mind, just from your industry, intra-industry, where- who, who can afford it and who can’t. And the size of that operation.
Big Ag lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (05:54)
Committee Chairman: (05:54)
Talk about the law first and how it is- I mean, that’s the message that I just heard and I want to make sure that I didn’t hear it wrong.
Big Ag lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (05:59)
That’s actually a, a 30 minute answer so I’ll, I’ll do my best. Um-
Big Ag lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (06:02)
I warned you (laughs).
Big Ag lobbyist Bryan Tolar: (06:04)
With regard to, to who can and who can’t take advantage of the H2A program because it is an expensive program, uh, the answer is it depends. It depends on what your commodity is, it depends on your locale for where your market is. Um, and I know that’s, that’s a lawyer type answer. I think I’ll say it depends a lot too. Um, but it- there is no, there is no simple answer and it’s because the industry is not simple. The solution is not simple. And it’s not a matter of drawing a line and saying, “Well, if we get above this point or we’re below this point, then, then we’re in