The United States continues its schizophrenic policy toward immigrant labor with President George W. Bush's eleventh-hour changes to the H-2A program, which allows immigrant farmworkers into the country for up to ten months at a time.
The changes will make it less expensive and complicated for agricultural employers, relaxing wage, housing and recruitment requirements.
Bruce Goldstein, director of the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Farmworker Justice, said the administration "is making it easier for employers to bring in massive numbers of workers with fewer regulations and no oversight."
The changes were first proposed last February, and the Department of Labor and Homeland Security received thousands of objections during a 45-day comment period which ended in April. Only one substantive change was made in response to the comments: originally the proposed regs had allowed employers to give workers vouchers rather than provide housing. The new proposal dropped the voucher idea but created a loophole: In an "unforseen emergency," employers can house workers in uninspected housing.
Other changes relax requirements that employers show they can't find domestic workers (they are allowed to merely "attest" with the new regs), and allow employers to drop the H-2A wage of $9.72 per hour to minimum wage.
The regulations have yet to be published, and Farmworker Justice and other organizations are asking the DOL to withdraw them. If that doesn't happen, the organizations will ask Congress to step in to stop the regulations from taking effect in mid-January before President-elect Obama takes office. And if that fails, Farmworker Justice will likely file a lawsuit, says staff attorney Virginia Ruiz.
Some agricultural employers have used prison labor instead of H-2A or undocumented farmworkers, as HCN reported in October.