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April 2012 Volume 18 Number 2
DHS issued 60,100 H-2A visas in FY09, over 90 percent to Mexicans; the number of H-2A visas dropped to 55,900 in FY10, when some 8,200 applicants for H-2A visas were refused. Many of these H-2A visas were for 10 months.<< back
If H-2A workers were employed three-fourths of a 10-month or 1,600-hour work period at $10 an hour, they would earn an average $12,000 for 1,200 hours of work.
Sheepherders. Farmworker Justice in February 2012 called for an end to the sheepherder exemption in the H-2A program that allows foreigners with renewable one-year contracts to herd sheep on public and private lands in the western states for up to three years, after which H-2A sheepherders must spend at least 90 days in their country of origin.
The Western Range Association, based in Salt Lake City, recruits about 900 H-2A sheepherders for its 220 members, while Casper, Wyoming-based Mountain Plains Agricultural Service recruits 500 H-2A sheepherders for 100 member ranchers. Most H-2A sheepherders receive $750 a month.
The Martinez ranch in Moxee, Washington has about 5,000 ewes and 11 H-2A sheepherders from Peru.
The Washington Farm Labor Association reported that 20 state growers hired 3,000 H-2A workers in 2011, and predicted that 25 would hire 4,000 H-2A workers in 2012.
Sierra-Cascade Nursery of Susanville, California in March 2012 paid $290,000 in back wages to H-2A workers employed in 2006-07, when it first employed H-2A workers, and $170,000 in penalties and interest. Sierra-Cascade has continued to employ H-2A workers since without incident.
H-2B. DOL on January 21, 2012 issued a revised final H-2B regulation to require employers seeking certification after April 23, 2012 to employ foreign workers in seasonal nonfarm jobs (up to nine months) to post their jobs in an electronic registry and to interview US applicants until three weeks before the employer-specified job start date (up from 10 days). State Workforce Agencies will supervise employer recruitment of US workers, ending the current practice of employers asserting that they tried and failed to recruit qualified US workers.
The H-2B program admits up to 66,000 foreign workers a year.
DOL justified the return to a certification system for H-2B employers by saying that the attestation procedure in place between 2008 and 2012 was subject to fraud and abuse. During these four years, employers assert that they satisfied program regulations.
DOL in 2012 simplified procedures for employers of H-2B workers by allowing their proof of a temporary need for foreign workers to continue for three years. However, employers must prove that US workers are not available each year.
Employers must pay transportation costs to the US job after the H-2B worker completes half of the contract period, and pay the worker's return transportation at the end of the job. Workers are guaranteed pay for three-fourths of the hours of work that employers promise. The 2012 regulations prohibit foreign recruiters from charging fees to workers abroad, and require employers to reimburse workers for visa expenses.
Contractors who bring guest workers into the US and move them from one employer to another are generally banned from the H-2B program because DOL defined their need for workers as permanent rather than seasonal. The prevailing wage that must be offered and paid to H-2B workers was revised in a separate rule that was originally supposed to go into effect October 1, 2011 but delayed for a year by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who said she was acting to protect her state's crab processors. Mikulski cited a study that asserted each H-2B worker employed in crab processing supports two US workers in the crabbing industry.
Green Bay sauerkraut producer Great Lakes Kraut was sued by 65 Mexican H-2B workers in February 2012 after they alleged that they were sent home because of the higher prevailing wage announced but not implemented by DOL in 2011; they were replaced in September 2011 by US workers from Florida. The Mexican H-2B workers, who trimmed and prepared raw cabbages for sauerkraut since 2006, were employed for two months in 2011, which they say was not enough time to recoup the $1,000 or more in recruitment fees, travel and immigration expenses that were deducted from their wages.
The number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay is believed to have rebounded from lows in 2007 to perhaps 460 million in spring 2011. As the harvest began in March 2012, some crab processors complained of labor shortages, alleging that DOL was too slow to approve their applications for H-2B Mexican workers.