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July 1998, Volume 4, Number 3

Congress: Guest Workers

On June 24, 1998, the Senate Immigration subcommittee held a hearing on
agricultural guest workers that focused on how the current H-2A program could
be made more employer friendly. Six US Senators testified that the US needs a
new guest worker program or a substantially revised H-2A program. The only
point of agreement was that a better labor exchange is needed.

In April, US Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said that the US does not "need
a new guest worker law to replace H-2A. We have workers that are available."
US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said: "I share her views." Glickman
announced $18 million in grants for farm worker housing to expand Everglades
Village, a planned migrant farm worker community in Florida City built after
Hurricane Andrew destroyed much of the housing in the area in 1992.

The Reform Party founded by Ross Perot is proposing a "reversible" guest
worker program that would legalize currently unauthorized farm workers and
require employers who want to hire them to pay an adverse-effect wage rate.
The workers would be encouraged to return to their country of origin by the
prospect of receiving the worker's and the employer's contribution to Social
Security, plus 10 percent, or about 25 percent of total earnings. Those
eligible to participate would have to be in the US illegally for at least two
months. For more information see:

The goals of the program are to legalize temporarily the current illegal
farm work force, prevent farm labor shortages, and to discourage additional
illegal immigration by requiring farmers who hire temporarily legalized workers
to participate in INS employment authorization programs. Major issues include:
(1) would the prospect of a one- or two-year legal work permit encourage
additional illegal immigration; (2) would exploitation increase if workers
worked illegally for two months to get an employer to offer the workers a
contract; and (3) would this program may lock US agriculture into a long-term
dependence on foreign workers; the program emphasizes rotating foreign workers
through US jobs rather than, for example, mechanizing or shifting
labor-intensive production abroad.

British West Indies Central Labor Organization. The British West
Indies Central Labor Organization has provided Caribbean nonimmigrant workers
from Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Lucia and Dominica to East Coast growers under
the H-2 program since 1943. In 1997, BWI CLO is expected to supply 8,000 to
9,000 H-2A workers, primarily for apple harvesting in the northeast.

The BWI CLO permits US farmers to designate workers wanted or not wanted by
name. BWI CLO charges H-2A workers five percent of what they earn for liaison
and other services; growers pay two percent of H-2A earnings to BWI CLO. BWI
CLO offers workers health insurance for $6.30 a week, and requires that 20
percent of the workers earnings be deposited in a Jamaican savings bank.

Dave Hogan, "Farm-worker shortage gets congressional attention," Oregonian,
June 25 1998. US General Accounting Office. 1998. H-2A Agricultural
Guestworker Program: Response to Additional Questions. HEHS-98-120R, Apr. 2.
U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. 1998. Consolidation of
Labor's Enforcement Responsibilities for the H-2A Program Could Better Protect
U.S. Agricultural Workers. Report Number: 04-98-004-03-321. March 31. with a response by
ESA at:

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