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Editorial: We need borders with smart openings

Thomas Jeker, 25, is spending 10 months on Spencer Bina's farm near Lankin, N.D., as a trainee on a J1 visa. Jeker is from Switzerland and has a background in dairy farming. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

In a heartland state like North Dakota it's easy to forget how interconnected we are to the rest of the world. Farmers are acutely aware of this global interdependence, however. Export markets are crucial outlets for the crops and livestock they grow in far greater quantities than Americans can consume. Less obviously, some farmers depend upon foreign workers to help in the field. In fact, this dependency on foreign farm labor is growing. That's because our rural communities continue to lose population. In years past, farmers often retired to the nearby small town. Now, farmers are more likely to move to a city like Fargo or Grand Forks, where their grandkids live and where health care and other services are handy.

It's also highly unlikely that farmers can recruit domestic workers to relocate to remote rural areas to work on farms. Thus, programs that allow foreign workers to enter the country are vital for some farmers. Last fiscal year, Job Service North Dakota processed almost 500 visa applications for almost 1,500 foreign farm workers. That workforce is expected to surpass 1,700 this year. The visa programs that help supply farm workers and trainees are required to not compete with American workers. The workers and trainees are brought into areas with low unemployment rates like North Dakota to ensure that they are not eliminating jobs for American workers, as required by law.

All of that is important to remember at a time when the country seems to be moving toward isolationism and is becoming increasingly resistant to immigration. Farmers who rely on these visa programs get more than a little nervous when they read about the possibility of limiting temporary work visa programs. And let's face it: farmers have plenty to be nervous about these days. Crop prices that are below the cost of production. Increased equipment and input costs. A plunge in farm income.

Work visa programs also are important to the health sector. Our hospitals and clinics would not be able to operate without the entry of foreign-trained doctors and other health professionals, and once again the work permits are granted only in cases where they are not depriving Americans of jobs.

Unfortunately, the visa programs are a bureaucratic quagmire, notoriously cumbersome and inefficient. We should fix those problems. Today's world is increasingly interconnected. We grow more prosperous through free trade and immigration policies that are tailored to benefit our labor market. There are challenges, and we must soften the blows to those who are harmed economically through globalism. But we should be focusing on tearing down walls, not building them.

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.