A U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposal will help U.S. farmers struggling to source legal and stable sources of agricultural labor, industry leaders say.
The announcement this week from the department aims to modernize and improve the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Certification Program by mandating electronic filing of job orders and applications.
Experts say this will streamline the H-2A application process for U.S. farmers, especially those finding it difficult to source employees. The DOL is currently seeking public comments on the proposed changes. Among them are protections for U.S. and foreign workers by enhancing standards applicable to rental housing and public accommodation, and updates to how the Adverse Effect Wage Rates and prevailing wages are determined.
“President Trump once again shows his commitment to helping America’s farmers, ranchers, and producers continue to be the most productive in the world by increasing their access to a stable and legal workforce,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “The proposed rule will increase access to a reliable legal agricultural workforce, easing unnecessary burdens on farmers, increase enforcement against fraud and abuse, all while maintaining protections for America’s workers.
“When this rule goes into effect, our farmers will be released from unnecessary and burdensome regulations allowing them to do what they do best.”
According to the DOL, roughly 94.1 percent of H-2A applications are already filed electronically. At least four federal agencies and three state agencies are currently engaged in the application process.
“Overall, we are very pleased with the release,” said Bob Boehm, general manager of Great Lakes Ag Labor Services LLC, a service provider that helps farmers hire H-2A seasonal workers. “While we have not had time to thoroughly review the nearly 500 pages, the changes proposed reflect suggested improvements that have been identified over the past several years to streamline the H-2A program and recognize the growing reliance our farmers have on the program to meet their labor needs.”
The DOL’s notice of proposed rulemaking — a public notice by agencies to add or remove a rule or regulation — promotes the use of digital signature, while employers have the option of “staggering the entry of H-2A workers on a single application.”
All of this, the department said, will ease “unnecessary burdens” on employers while saving money for the DOL as paper-based submissions are more costly than electronic filings to process.
“Current regulations were born of technologies and conditions appearing in the ’60s and ’70s,” said Craig Anderson, manager of agricultural labor and safety services at the Michigan Farm Bureau. “This proposed rule allows for significant systems modernization while beginning to address many duplicative and counter-productive procedures and practices causing challenges for both employers and employees.”
Interested persons can submit written comments on the proposed rule once it’s published in the Federal Register.
To submit comments on the e-filing process, visit http://www.regulations.gov and type “1205-AB89” in the comment or submission search box. Members can also send written submissions to Adele Gagliardi, 200 Constitution Ave. N.W., Room N-5641, Washington, D.C. 20210.
More information on the proposal can be found here.