A bi-partisan group of 102 members of Congress wrote U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Friday demanding that Citizenship and Immigration Services fix the administrative backlog of the H-2A agricultural worker program.
The lawmakers complained to Perez and ICE director Leon Rodriguez about the increasing issues and delays trying to process applications and visa petitions for H-2A workers. The backlog is creating a labor shortage for farmers who rely heavily on immigrant labor.
"This breakdown is impacting growers and ranchers who are trying to higher workers in time for the harvest and threatening millions of dollars in perishable agricultural products," the House members wrote.
Farmers have increasingly turned to H-2A workers as states and federal authorities over the past few years have tightened the screws on farmers caught using undocumented laborers. Demand for H-2A workers has tripled in the past five years even though farmers note problems with paperwork, bureaucracy and higher costs. Lawmakers wrote that they fear the problems with the H-2A program will become worse as summer progresses and demand for harvest labor grows.
"The need for a legal and reliable work force is so great that farmers use this program despite these concerns. Unfortunately, regulatory roadblocks create even more complexity. For the past two years, H-2A employers have experienced unacceptable delays in the processing of labor certifications, visa petitions, and interviews for final border crossing and arrival on farms and ranches. Already this spring, farmers from all across the country are seeing significant delays at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Unfortunately, it is also clear that DOL is at times not following the statutory requirement prescribed in law to respond to applications 30 days prior to the farmer’s date of need. These delays are devastating to growers and ranchers that cannot wait to plant, tend, and harvest. DOL must comply with the law, and the failure to comply is unacceptable. This trend leaves growers fearful of a major break-down in the system when peak demand for H-2A workers hits beginning in June," the lawmakers wrote.
The House members cited several bureaucratic problems in their letter, such as Department of Labor demands on start dates for workers that is inflexible though the department's processing problems now usually means workers are not arriving by the planned harvest date. There are other problems regarding costs to validate employers and paperwork over "proving that agriculture is in fact seasonal in nature."
"Your agencies must recognize that agriculture is inherently seasonal, and analysts in your agencies should be instructed to take all possible steps not to delay the process, especially considering current conditions."
The letter was signed by 71 Republicans and 31 Democrats. https://newhouse.house.gov/…
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