There’s been a lot of conversation about immigration laws of late. One presidential candidate wants to build a wall that would keep people in Mexico and other Latin American countries south of the border.
Whether you agree with that philosophy or not, his stand raises a question: What happens to the workers who have been entering the country legally under the H-2A Program for temporary agricultural workers?
Under H-2A, the federal government grants foreign nationals short-term visas to help harvest and process crops. The emphasis in the verbiage on the H-2A Program website (https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-2a-temporary-agricultural-workers) is on jobs that are of a temporary or seasonal nature
We hear a lot of complaining about immigrants taking jobs from American workers, but the law requires agricultural employers to demonstrate “there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available to do the temporary work.”
And the Department of Labor doesn’t just pay lip service to the requirement, according to Susan Denham, a Community Outreach Resource & Planning Specialist (C.O.R.P.S.) with the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.
“One of the law’s provisions is that if you had U.S. workers in the previous year, you have to extend employment to them first before you offer employment to any H-2A,” she said. “You have to keep a log and record what you did to recruit that U.S. worker.”
Ms. Denham, who is based in Tupelo, Miss., provided an update on the H-2A Program for members of the Delta Council’s Aquaculture Committee at a meeting in Stoneville, Miss., at the end of August.
Employers must try to hire U.S. workers first, and those workers have a right to the jobs in up to 50 percent of the employment contract. Farmers must also offer at least the same incentives, including housing and transportation to U.S. workers, as they would to H-2A workers.
Catfish farmers hire H-2A workers to help with seining of ponds to harvest catfish. Many of the gins in the Mid-South have a number of H-2A workers because of the seasonal nature of cotton ginning.
If construction of the wall begins soon after the election, as promised, farmers may need a back-up plan for harvesting their crops.