DHS revamping agriculture guest worker programs (crops rotting in fields, redefining "temporary")
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With a nationwide farmworker shortage threatening to leave unharvested fruits and vegetables rotting in fields, the Bush administration has begun quietly rewriting federal regulations to eliminate barriers that restrict how foreign laborers can legally be brought into the country."Family farm" or politically-connected major albeit non-corporate grower? Perhaps if the LAT wanted to do some real reporting they might consider looking into her links.
...On all sides of the farm industry, the administration's behind-the-scenes initiative to revamp H-2A farmworker visas is fraught with anxiety. Advocates for immigrants fear the changes will come at the expense of worker protections because the administration has received and is reportedly acting on extensive input from farm lobbyists. And farmers in areas such as the San Joaquin Valley, which is experiencing a 20% labor shortfall, worry the administration's changes will not happen soon enough for the 2008 growing season.
"It's like a ticking time bomb that's going to go off," said Luawanna Hallstrom, chief operating officer of Harry Singh & Sons, a third-generation family farm in Oceanside that grows tomatoes. "I'm looking at my fellow farmers and saying, 'Oh my God, what's going on?' "
Officials at the three federal agencies are scrutinizing the regulations to see whether they can adjust the farmworker program, an unwieldy system used by less than 2% of American farms to bring in foreign workers. They are considering a series of changes, including lengthening the time workers can stay, expanding the types of work they can do, simplifying how their applications are processed, and redefining terms such as "temporary."Orwell would be proud.
The agencies are also working on possible changes to a separate visa program, H-2B, which brings in seasonal workers for resorts, clam-shucking operations and horse stables, among other businesses.All of which are vital to our economy.
...The changes to the H-2A visa program comprise one of more than two dozen initiatives the administration announced in August. Most of the initiatives dealt with increased enforcement, the most prominent being a measure that would force employers to either fire workers for whom they've received "no match" notification (indicating their W-2 data don't match Social Security Administration records) or face punitive action from the Department of Homeland Security. When Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the enforcement push, he also acknowledged the problems that agriculture reported.
...Industry lobbyists have sent the Bush administration a set of detailed suggestions for overhauling the H-2A program through administrative changes, which could take weeks to put in place, and through changes in the regulations, a process that takes months.
Some of the suggestions under consideration include changing the procedures farmers must use to try to hire U.S. citizens first. Currently farmers have to advertise the jobs, then submit applications to Labor and Homeland Security to bring in foreign workers. Growers would prefer to move to a system in which they pledged that they had done all they could to recruit U.S. workers, but no longer had to submit an application to Labor.
Other changes under consideration would simplify the detailed H-2A housing requirements, extend the definition of "temporary" beyond 10 months, and expand the definition of "agricultural" workers to include such industries as meatpacking and poultry processing.