February 8, 2008
February 8, 2008 - On Wednesday, the Bush Administration announced the details of an administrative effort to bring about significant reform of the H-2A agricultural worker program. The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR) appreciates the administration's acknowledgement of the serious labor crisis facing American agriculture and that the administration seeks to use the tools and authorities available to it to improve the situation. ACIR believes that significant H-2A reform is an essential element of a broad-based solution to the labor crisis. While the administration proposes to address some needed changes in the H-2A program that can be made within the existing legislative framework, it cannot remedy the problems created by existing law.
There is a need for major capacity-building to enable significantly wider reliance on a reformed H-2A program. At present, only 2 percent of U.S. agricultural labor needs are provided through the H-2A program. Yet, users often experience serious delays between their dates of need and the arrival of H-2A workers. While proposed streamlining may help, capacity-building, such as at U.S. consulates abroad, is essential and will take time.
The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) participated in a conference call on Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor to review the multi-page proposal.
"Currently, sheepherders have a provision within the H-2A program that exempts them from the requirement to be out of the country six months between contracts," stated Peter Orwick, executive director for ASI. "The proposed rule awaiting publication will require H-2A workers in all programs to be out of the country three months between contracts."
Sheep producers who may be affected by this change should contact their labor organization for more details on the benefits and impacts of this proposal. It is anticipated that the proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register soon with a likely 60-day comment period.