May 31, 2023
House committee questions DOL H-2A delays

U.S. House and Senate Republicans are questioning the Department of Labor about what they say are “substantial delays” in processing agricultural employers’ requests for workers through the H-2A temporary visa program.

In a May 25 letter to Julie Su, acting labor secretary, House members Virginia Foxx and Kevin Kiley wrote that delays in the program are “tremendously harmful” for U.S. agriculture. Foxx is chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and Kiley is chairman of the Workforce Protection Subcommittee.

H-2A growth chart
The number of ag workers in the H-2A temporary visa program has risen dramatically in the past decade. Graph courtesy of Department of Labor.

“The arrival of workers can be delayed by weeks, causing inefficiencies and supply chain disruptions,” according to the letter. “Therefore, the committee is conducting oversight on this matter.”

Foxx and Kiley wrote it is their understanding that the DOL delays are “unnecessary and avoidable,” and more troubling considering a recent article quoting a DOL Wage and Hour Division employee. The article, “Human trafficking or a guest worker program?” is the culmination of an investigation by Prism, Futuro Investigates and Latino USA.

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Ted Budd (R-NC) wrote to Su about the article in mid-May, expressing concerns of quotes it contained by Mike Rios, regional agriculture enforcement coordinator with the Wage and Hour Division.

“(Y)ou can see that the H-2A program literally is the purchase of humans to perform difficult work under terrible conditions, sometimes including subhuman living conditions,” Rios said, according to the article, and that wage theft is “baked into” the program.

“The quotes are disturbing and yet puzzling because the laws and regulations that DOL is supposed to enforce prohibit these conditions,” Foxx and Kiley wrote in the letter, saying Rios’ comments raise the question of whether the delays are due to DOL hostility to the program and ag employers.

The letter asks that the DOL respond by June 9 to questions about the cause of the delays and what the department is doing to address them, as well as data about average processing time and number of applications not processed by when workers are needed.

“For many farmers and ranchers, especially those with perishable crops, timely processing of applications at DOL and timely arrivals of guest workers are crucial,” according to the Foxx-Kiley letter. “The planting and harvesting windows offer only a short amount of time to meet the season’s needs.”

Although H-2A wages, which are set by the federal government continue to rise, the temporary visa program has grown significantly in the past decade, as farmers try to meet their needs as the labor pool decreases.


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