Labor Department Opens Public Comment On Proposed Changes to H-2A

Public comment is open until Sept. 24 on proposed changes to H-2A foreign guest worker regulations.

In a 489-page rule change proposal, the U.S. Department of Labor has suggested altering the H-2A program to require employers to apply electronically, encourage digital signatures and allow staggered start-dates for visiting employees on single applications, according to a department news release.

MWFPA is reviewing the proposed changes.

Producers and food manufacturers have attempted to use the H-2A visa program as a source of temporary workers though many find the program and its regulations impractical . While the number of H-2A visas is not capped by the government, U.S. employers must demonstrate that foreign employment will not negatively affect wages and working conditions for the domestic labor force.

To do that, employers are required to pay an “adverse effect wage rate,” a type of minimum wage that must be offered to domestic and foreign workers, to ensure salaries for U.S. workers are not undercut by the guest worker program. The rate is calculated using an average for all field and livestock workers in a certain geographic area, and offered as base pay for H-2A employees.

The new rule would allow the Labor Department to create separate wage rates based on occupations, changes that could increase the wages for specialized workers — first-line supervisors, agricultural and food science technicians, or agricultural managers like farmers or ranchers — while decreasing salaries for general field laborers.

The federal government certified 243,000 H-2A positions in 2018, nearly triple the number 10 years ago.

Other proposed changes include enhancing housing standards and expanding departmental enforcement options.

To read the proposal and learn how to comment, visit https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/07/26/2019-15307/temporary-agricultural-employment-of-h-2a-nonimmigrants-in-the-united-states

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