Mike Strain, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner, has pledged to Louisiana’s crawfish tail meat processors that he will enlist the support of other state departments of agriculture and the Louisiana congressional delegation to streamline and improve the procedure by which the seafood and agricultural industries secure temporary foreign workers for the United States.
Strain will attend the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) convention on Feb. 13 and will propose a resolution to improve the way H-2A and H-2B temporary workers are brought into the country.
“What we have now is not working well enough,” Strain said. “Crawfish processors have to spend extra money to expedite the process to bring in labor that will peel our crawfish meat because the United States Department of Labor system can’t process the workers in a timely manner.”
Strain said federal labor rules allow U.S. employers to bring in foreign nationals for work if they can establish that the need for workers is temporary and/or seasonal and demonstrate there are not sufficient American workers who are willing, able, qualified and available to do the work.
The number of H-2B guest workers is capped at 66,000 per year. The seafood industry along the Gulf Coast uses about 3,000 workers each year.
“Our crawfish processors and agricultural producers have established the need for temporary workers and, as much as they would like to, cannot fill the jobs locally,” Strain said. “I’m going to bring a plan to the NASDA convention that I believe all of my fellow agriculture commissioners, secretaries and directors can support.”
Strain said he will be working closely with Jon Hagler, Missouri Department of Agriculture Secretary, to get support from the NASDA membership.
"The issue of procuring temporary agricultural and H-2B workers is not only a concern for Louisiana but a concern for all states," Strain said.
Strain said federal rules that only allow 120 days for U.S. employers to advertise for local workers -- and when local labor is not found, recruit, manage visa requirements and transport foreign workers to work locations -- is not long enough.
“U.S. employers need at least 160 days to complete this process,” Strain said. "We are only at the beginning of the calendar year. The backlog will only increase as spring and summer growing seasons approach."
Strain’s other proposal include the pre-processing of foreign workers for a five-year period.
“Ninety percent of the H-2A and H-2B guest workers brought into the country come year after year to work in our crawfish plants, crawfish ponds, agricultural fields and hospitality industries,” Strain said. “We know who they are. They get processed annually. We’ve got to implement a pre-processing system that will be good for five years. If they’ve already worked in the United States before and did a good job and stayed out of trouble in our country and their country, then our seafood and agricultural employers should be allowed to bring those workers back into the country to work without unnecessary delay and expense.
“It’s been estimated that there are more than 650,000 undocumented workers in the U.S. That number is unacceptable, but tougher immigration laws that will hand out heavy fines and jail time for employers who violate the law is having the desired effect. We are beginning to see foreign workers who are here illegally returning home to get the proper visa access to come back to the United States for work.
“If we’re going to continue to rely upon foreign workers, then we need an expedited system to bring them into the country, keep track of them and to make sure they return home when their work visas have expired.”