Migrant workers come from half a world away
Hillsboro farmer and custom cutter Mike Meisinger wants good and dependable help with harvest — even if it means bringing workers from Romania.
A program that grants temporary visas so farm workers can enter the United States has helped Meisinger have enough employees on hand over the last nine years.
Five Romanian farm and harvest workers sponsored by Meisinger recently arrived for this year’s work season and will be here until November.
They are OviDiu Mihai, Florin Rogojan, Marian Mai Miha, Robert Dobai, and Dobos Bela.
All are from the same city in the Transylvania region of Romania, located in the center of the country.
“Actually, we are neighbors,” Miha said.
Meisinger said some years he’s had as few as two overseas farm workers. Some of this year’s workers have come year after year. Rogojan has worked with Meisinger since 2009, the first year Meisinger brought workers from Romania.
Meisinger said was he wasn’t able to find sufficient workers before he learned about the H2A program. After finding out about its existence, he set about using it to get the help he needed.
Life and culture in central Kansas is far removed from Romania, all of the Romanians say.
“It’s a big change,” Rogojan said. “The food is different from our traditional food, so when we get over here it’s a big change.”
Although it’s not easy to be so far from family so much of the year, Rogojan said it helps to keep in touch with family through Skype.
Rogojan misses the scenery of home.
“We have a beautiful country,” Rogojan said.
The wide, open spaces of Marion County, and even the space around homes in Wichita, are a change.
“Our city is more compact, not spread out like Wichita,” Miha said.
Because their city is more compact, they can walk to the store to shop. Stores are tucked into spaces such as the bottom level of apartment complexes, and prices are usually high. In the U.S., going to the store means driving to get there.
He likes shopping opportunities in Wichita. Goods, especially technology purchases, are less expensive in America.
“There are getting to be more stores in Romania with good brands and lower prices,” Miha said.
Bela said he enjoys the friendliness of the people he meets here.
“I like the people,” Bela said. “When I came here, the first thing I saw is people smiling. It doesn’t matter what is happening, people are calm. I’m trying to tell my city people how Americans try to help each other.”
Mihai said the reason the group work harvest in Kansas is because the work earns them good money, while work that pays well is hard to find in Romania. Even so, they must leave family members behind during their stay here.
Romania has a 6.7 percent unemployment rate and its Ministry of Labor reports that one in four Romanians lives in poverty. That poverty rate is the highest among countries in the European Union.
The men are truck drivers for the business, and are hard workers with an eye to safety, Meisinger said.
“In my business, having a satisfied customer is the most important thing to me, and the thing I have appreciated about these guys is they’re reliable, hardworking, and conscientious,” Meisinger said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have good workers.”
Meisinger said he uses a broker in Oklahoma to take care of the substantial paperwork involved in getting workers through the H2A program. The H2A program is for temporary or seasonal work. Employers must submit proof they are unable to find U.S. workers for the job. Along with completing several required forms, Meisinger must provide travel costs, housing, and food for the men and agree to pay them at least three-fourths of the previous year’s wages.