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January 2003, Volume 9, Number 1

H-2Bs: Maine

A maximum 66,000 foreign workers a year may receive H-2B visas and enter the US to fill temporary nonfarm jobs for up to one year; the INS does not normally allow the admission of H-2B workers unless the US Department of Labor certifies that no qualified and willing U.S. workers are available to fill the jobs

The employer completes the 24-item ETA form 750A, which requires the employer to "describe fully the job to be performed" as well as to list the hours per day and week, and the wage, which must be at least the "prevailing wage." Local Employment Service (ES) offices review the forms, the employer attempts to recruit US workers, and the ES reviews the employer's recruitment report on why US workers who applied were not hired. DOL certification of the need for H-2B workers is attached to the employer's INS Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.

For many years, fewer than 20,000 H-2B workers a year were admitted, for instance, there were about 14,200 admissions in FY95 . However, the number doubled by FY99, when 35,800 H-2Bs were admitted. DOL reports that the number of H-2B workers certified for admission has increased sharply, reaching 113,400 in FY01 (not all jobs certified result in the admission of an H-2B worker). About a fourth of the DOL H-2B certifications in FY01-02 were for landscape laborers, 10 percent for forestry workers, seven percent for housekeepers in hotels and motels, and four percent each for stable attendants and tree planters. About half of the H-2B certifications were for these occupations in FY01-02.

In Maine in September 2002, 14 Honduran and Guatemalan workers in the US with H-2B visas died when the van driven by their crew foreman went off a bridge on a private road into the water; they were employed by Idaho-based Evergreen Forestry Services. The workplace was 2.5 hours each way from where the men lived, and the men paid $84 a week to ride in the van. The Liberty Mutual Group, the insurance company, said it would pay up to $150,000 in death benefits, reflecting 80 percent of the worker's after-tax average weekly wage, for a period of up to 500 weeks.

DOL fined Evergreen $17,000, the maximum, for violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act for not registering the driver of the van, and said it would revoke Evergreen's farm labor contractor license. Evergreen said it would appeal. One DOL investigator in 1997 wrote that Evergreen "has a lengthy and woeful history of non-compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act…. Regardless of the hours worked, the payroll indicated consistently 40 hours, and [Evergreen] could not furnish supplementary records to back up the payroll or hours worked."

Several state legislators have proposed new laws regulating forestry work. One bill would require employers to provide forestry workers with transportation to and from the worksite, equipment needed to do their jobs, and housing near worksites. A legislator who is a former logger said that he was paid $165 an acre for forestry work in the mid-1980s, while the H-2B workers were paid $75 an acre in 2002.

In Washington, Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) has drafted a proposal for a new H-2C guest worker program, presumably to head off an effort for legalization or earned legalization. Under the proposal, up to 500,000 visas a year could be issued to unskilled foreign workers, and the workers could renew these visas indefinitely, so long as the president certifies that Mexico is cooperating with the US to reduce illegal immigration.

Susan Young, "Feds investigated forestry firm," Bangor Daily News, November 2, 2002.

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