Proposed H-VSA visa changes would streamline applications, strengthen protections

By Kaitlin Washburn @KWashy12

TULARE COUNTY – Amidst a national debate on immigration and a labor shortage in the Central Valley, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed changes to improve the H-2A temporary agricultural labor certification program.

The proposal intends to “streamline and simplify” the application process, strengthen protections for U.S. and foreign workers and ease burdens on employers.

“When this rule goes into effect, our farmers will be released from unnecessary and burdensome regulations allowing them to do what they do best,” said Sonny Perdue, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in a news release.

Under the changes, growers and labor contractors would be required to electronically file applications and job orders, which the Department says would reduce costs and burdens for employers and promote efficiency and accountability.

Under the changes, employers would also stagger the entrance of guest workers for up to 120 days after the start of the growing period, according to the department.

Protections for U.S. and foreign workers would be strengthened by enhanced standards for rental housing and public accommodations and updated methodologies used to determine adverse effect wage rates to ensure U.S. workers similarly employed aren’t impacted.

Expanded access to H-2A program means a broader definition of agricultural labor or services to include employers engaged in reforestation and pine straw activities. The proposed changes would also codify and update procedures for certification for jobs in animal shearing, custom combining, beekeeping and reforestation.

The H-2A nonimmigrant worker visa program, which has been available since 1987, enables agricultural employers to temporarily employ foreign agricultural workers when there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing and qualified.

The program also requires that the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers similarly employed.

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