Since 2014, Trump Winery in Charlottesville has applied for federal permission to hire 87 foreign workers—more than any other Virginia vineyard. Smaller winemakers say the process is a paperwork-filled frustration. Instead, they rely on mostly Latino workers living in the US with or with-out papers.
That may change, given the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Winemakers say it could lead to more reliance on H-2A visas, which bring foreigners to the US for up to ten months a year.
Local winemakers don’t like the H-2A requirement that employers provide workers with housing, or that job orders be submitted to the Department of Labor months in advance. If the crop fails, they’re left with idle workers they have to pay.
Another issue is that they’ve already spent years training the workers they have. Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Cellars says it takes three years to master pruning vines. His two workers, both of whom have green cards, make about $13 an hour. Winemakers say few local kids want to prune and pick in the cold and heat, especially with wages starting at about $10 an hour.
For now, area winemakers are waiting to see if deportations will create labor shortages. If it were up to him, Pearmund would keep things simple. “Why don’t we let people pay taxes?” he says. “Let the workers of the world work.”
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This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Washingtonian.