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Hearing of the Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee - H-2A Visa Program: Meeting the Growing Needs of American Agriculture

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

There are no jobs Americans will not do. But there is one job that neither Americans nor immigrants seem to choose if they have other options -- seasonal agricultural work.

That is why many illegal immigrant farmworkers who received amnesty in 1986 soon left the fields for better jobs in the city. As the president of the American Farm Bureau has stated, any new amnesty such as AgJobs would have the same result. Because of this, U.S. employers often face a shortage of available American workers to fill seasonal agricultural jobs.

There is no numerical limit to H-2A temporary agricultural work visas. And yet, usage of the program has always been below expectations. Why is that? That is the focus of today's hearing. Why don't more growers who have heavy demands for seasonal agricultural labor make use of the program?

In addition to the concerns that Chairman Gallegly has mentioned, growers are troubled by the great cost of using the H-2A program, especially the "adverse effect wage rate" that they must pay guestworkers.

Growers also have to provide free housing for guestworkers and free transportation from the guestworkers' home countries. And they are concerned about the "50% rule" -- under which they have to offer jobs to all American workers who apply even after their guestworker application has been approved and their guestworkers have arrived.

In 2008, the Department of Labor concluded that the vast majority of growers "find the H-2A program so plagued with problems that they avoid using it altogether." In response, the Labor Department issued new regulations to address the concerns of growers.

The new Bush Administration regulations attempted to streamline the application process for growers by moving to an attestation-based system in which growers made commitments backed up by Department of Labor audits.

The regulations sunset the 50% rule and restricted grower responsibility for transportation expenses only to guestworkers who fulfilled at least half of their work contract. That makes common sense.

The regulations did not do away with the adverse effect wage rate but altered its calculation to more reliably mirror local labor costs.

When the new Administration took office in 2009, it almost immediately sought to suspend the Bush Administration's regulations. And that is regrettable because the Administration's actions made the situation worse. When told by a federal court that it had to adhere to the processes of the Administrative Procedures Act, the Labor Department proposed and then implemented yet more regulations.

These Obama administration regulations, as noted by the Farm Bureau, roll back commonsense improvements and bring us back to the old, problematic system.

The H-2A program needs to be fair to everyone it impacts -- especially American farmworkers, guestworkers, growers and American consumers. It must provide growers who want to do the right thing with a reliable source of legal labor. It must protect the livelihoods of American workers. It must protect the rights of guestworkers. And it must keep in mind the pocketbooks of American families.

Just like tilling the land, accomplishing all of these goals will be a lot of work. At today's hearing, we will examine how to improve the H-2A program. U.S. farmers need to be able to keep growing our crops and our economy.


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