Statement by USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner Regarding H-2A Farm Worker Program Revisions
"The changes we are proposing today will go a long way towards ensuring that America’s farmers will have a stable, legal workforce they can count on at harvest time. Because farmers are tied to the land and the natural cycles of growth and harvest, their need for labor is urgent and non-negotiable. This is particularly true of the fruit and vegetable growers who employ so many of our farm workers. A crop that rots in the field-for want of enough hands to pick it-can put a farmer out of business pretty fast.
Unfortunately, those farmers who do participate in the current H-2A program and meet all of its requirements still run the risk that because of bureaucratic delays beyond their control, they won’t have a legal workforce in place when they need it. We estimate that our agricultural work force numbers about 1.2 million at its seasonal peak in July.
But last year, agricultural employers hired only about 75,000 farm workers through the H-2A program. We believe between 50 and 70 percent of the agricultural work force is in the country illegally. That translates into between 600,000 and 800,000 people. At the upper end of that range, the H-2A program is legalizing fewer than 10 percent of eligible workers. And that is simply not acceptable.
The changes will streamline and simplify the program. Yet they will also provide new protections to U.S. workers by assuring them wider opportunities to learn about farm labor jobs that are available in their area.
By utilizing the Department of Labor’s Occupations Employment Survey data we will get more graduated and finely tuned wage data. The data will be linked to specific job categories and descriptions and should allow us to bring H-2A wage rates much closer to actual prevailing wages.
I also believe farmers will welcome the new attestation approach to certifying their need for foreign workers. We are also requiring them to keep records on hand for five years to prove that they did in fact comply with all the requirements of the law. We are making them subject to audits to confirm that they have in fact been doing the right thing.
What we are offering them is an opportunity to get their hiring back inside the law-without compromising their business needs. And we are offering farm workers who are now illegal the chance to get inside the law as well and take advantage of the protections and certainty it allows. I believe both groups have a great deal to gain here and will seize this opportunity. The nation as a whole will benefit when they do"
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