An average of 900,000 full-time jobs are available annually on U.S. crop farms, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), with many of those going unfilled. A Department of Labor proposed rule, announced on July 16, “to modernize and improve” the H-2A temporary agricultural workers program could change that. The program helps U.S. farmers fill employment gaps by allowing them to hire workers from other countries.
The Need Is Great
EPI reports almost half of H-2A jobs in 2016 were certified in five states, most dominated by dairy or produce farms — California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Washington.
Tom Karst, editor of Farm Journal’s The Packer, says the produce sector welcomes the proposed rule because the industry relies heavily on H-2A temporary workers.
“It looks like it’s an accelerated process for rule-making, and the changes could take effect by next year,” Karst notes.
The use of computerized technology to file job orders and applications is just one way the Department of Labor says it can simplify and speed-up the worker application process and make it possible for employers to stagger the entry of their H-2A employees on a single application.
Karst notes there also is an element in the 489-page proposed rule document that indicates the Department of Labor is evaluating H-2A worker wages, so they won’t compete with high-level, on-farm wage rates.
Expand Jobs, More Flexibility
The produce industry is concerned additional reform is needed, Karst adds, which will require Congress to further address.
“We may need to expand the number of jobs [eligible for the H-2A program], like for the dairy and greenhouse industries, and create more flexibility and opportunities to have year-round participation in the H-2A program,” he explains.
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