Bush trying to grow the temporary farm worker H-2A program

The Bush administration is set to make regulatory changes to the temporary farm worker – H-2A – program, changes that do not require legislation. The plan is designed to increase the use of legal temporary workers, which today account for about 2% of American farm labor. Upwards of 70% of farm workers today are estimated to be illegal.
Senator Diane Feinstein had sought to enact her AgJobs program either as part of comprehensive immigration reform or separately, to help California farmers. That program, on which I have posted, would legalize the status of hundreds of thousands of illegal farm workers.
A Los Angeles Times article says, in part, “The proposed changes, which would take effect after a 45-day period of public comment, would modify how foreign laborers are paid and housed, and slightly expand the types of industries that can use the program. The administration would also ease the standards farmers must now meet to show they have tried to hire U.S. citizens first.”
The article also reports:
“In addition to the Labor Department, the departments of State, Homeland Security and Agriculture have a role in the program. Labor and Homeland Security focused on making the program easier for growers to use, strengthening worker protections and improving enforcement, but critics questioned how these proposals would actually work.
‘It’s going to be a question of execution,’ said a Senate aide briefed on the changes. The aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record, expressed concern about some proposals, including a change to the way workers are paid.
One of the proposed changes would set wages based on a worker’s occupation and skill level. ‘Depending on how it’s done, it has the potential to lower farmworkers’ wages, potentially significantly,’ said the aide. [Wages are not set to local prevailing wages.]
Other changes would give workers more time to search for a new H-2A job after their existing one ends. Employers would have to certify under penalty of perjury that they wouldn’t change the terms of work after they hired the temporary workers.
Homeland Security would create a pilot program to track whether H-2A workers leave the country when their visas expire.
Employers that violate the program’s regulations would face substantially higher fines and penalties. Growers would also be forbidden from passing along to workers any costs incurred from participating in the program.

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