(UPDATED, 11:38 a.m.) Taking a step to deliver on a 2018 promise, a proposed rule from the Trump administration seeks to update the way wage rates are determined for the H-2A agricultural guest worker program and streamline other aspects of the program.
The Department of Labor will take comments on the nearly 500-page proposal until mid-September.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the proposed rule will increase access to a reliable legal agricultural workforce, ease unnecessary burdens on farmers, and increase enforcement against fraud and abuse.
“When this rule goes into effect, our farmers will be released from unnecessary and burdensome regulations allowing them to do what they do best,” he said.
A spokesman for Western Growers said the group was evaluating the proposal and had no immediate comment.
In a July 16 statement, the United Fresh Produce Association said the proposal includes a number of changes to the H-2A program that were supported by United Fresh.
"We encourage the Administration to finalize these new productive H-2A reforms after the notice and comment period has ended," United Fresh said. "In particular, United Fresh is pleased with the electronic filing and digital signature proposal along with staggering entry of H-2A workers on a single application."
Still, United Fresh said a more complete Congressional overall of the program will be needed.
"In addition, we must find a solution to the current workforce which will work hand in hand with an improved H-2A program," the statement said. "We implore Congress and all interested stakeholders to stay at the table and continue to find a legislative path forward for this type of reform."
Other farm groups said they will evaluate the proposal carefully but indicated support.
“The American Farm Bureau Federation applauds President Trump and his administration for recognizing the need to reform our nation’s agricultural guest worker program,” Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement. “American farmers and ranchers have long faced challenges in meeting their labor needs and asked for modernization of the H-2A program.”
Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, welcomed the proposal.
“We are very pleased the Administration has agreed to roll out this much needed modernization effort for the H-2A program,” he said in a statement. “It is obvious, based upon the 489 pages included, the deep dive that was done by the agencies in their effort to evolve the program to one more responsive to the needs of stakeholders.”
Marsh said the group will gather input from members and legal counsel before they submit comments on the proposal.
According to the proposal, the reforms would:
- Streamline the H-2A application process by mandating electronic filing of job orders and applications with the use of digital signatures;
- Provide employers with and the option of staggering the entry of H-2A workers on a single application;
- Strengthen protections for U.S. and foreign workers by enhancing standards applicable to rental housing and public accommodations;
- Strengthen surety bond requirements;
- Expand the Department’s authority to use enforcement tools like program debarment for substantial violations of program rules; and
- Update the methods used to determine the Adverse Effect Wage Rates and prevailing wages to ensure U.S. workers similarly employed are not adversely impacted.
- Expand access to the H-2A program by revising the definition of agricultural labor or services to include employers engaged in reforestation and pine straw activities.