Labor & Employment Law

Foreign Farmworker Regulation Eases

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Despite opposition from many fellow Republicans, the White House has been quietly spearheading an effort to streamline regulations and make it easier for farmers to import foreign field workers.

Attempting to alleviate a severe farmworker shortage apparently caused at least in part by stepped-up border and immigration enforcement, the Bush administration has been encouraging three federal agencies to amend the regulations governing the so-called H-2A farmworker visa program, reports the Los Angeles Times. The agencies are the departments of Homeland Security, Labor and State.

It is doubtful, however, whether the new regulations can be put in place in time to prevent a signficant percentage of next year’s crop from rotting in the fields unharvested because of a severe farmworker labor shortage, according to the newspaper. Meanwhile, growers historically have been reluctant to use the visa program, because it is viewed as expensive and likely to lead to litigation over compliance with federal requirements.

Harry Yates, who grows Christmas trees in North Carolina, estimates that H-2A workers cost him $14 hourly, while a competitor pays $7.50 per hour for illegal labor. And that can easily go up, if lawsuits are brought by worker advocates. “I understand why so many growers are afraid to use this program,” he tells the Times. “It is too expensive, too complicated, too slow and too likely to land you in court.”

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