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July 2004, Volume 10, Number 3


H-2A, H-2B Programs

The North Carolina Growers Association, headed by Stan Eury, brings 8,500 H-2A workers from Mexico to the US each year. Most H-2A workers report they pay up to $1,000 in Mexico to get selected for jobs on US farms, and expect to earn $5,000 to $8,000 for the six months they are in the US. Grower-members of the NCGA pay annual dues of $250 and a per H-2A worker fee of $500.

A suit filed in April 2004 accused the North Carolina Growers Association of maintaining a "blacklist" of 17,000 "ineligible" Mexican workers who would not be selected for the 1,000 NCGA farmer-members. According to the suit, workers who complained about wages or working conditions were placed on the blacklist. The suit also alleges that most workers' contracts had end dates of November 5, well past the end of the tobacco harvesting season. Most workers left when the work ended but, because they did not "complete" their contracts, they had to pay their return transportation to Mexico.

Gillam Farms in Judsonia, Arkansas was sued by 38 Mexican workers with H-2A visas who were brought to the US by USAMEX Logistics of Laredo, Texas to harvest blackberries between May 27 and July 27, 2002. The suit alleged that, because the workers were not reimbursed for the fees and travel costs they paid, their wages fell below the minimum wage.

Angelica Nurseries in Kennedyville, Maryland hires 150 local workers, 120 H-2A workers, and 30 US migrants to help grow 400 trees and woody ornamentals on 2,100 acres, and its participation in the program is said to have raised the AEWR from $7.97 in 2003 to $8.52 in 2004.

Sorrells Brothers, the largest user of H-2A workers in Florida, employing in excess of 300 Mexican H-2A workers a year to harvest oranges, in January 2004 was found to have fired six H-2A workers without cause in the 1999-2000 harvest season, and ordered Sorrells to pay each $5,200 plus interest.

H-2B. On March 10, 2004, the 66,000 limit on H-2B visas was reached for the first time since the program to bring temporary foreign workers to fill nonfarm US jobs was created in 1990. The ceiling was reached because applications for H-2B workers at winter ski resorts were higher than in previous years, and employers who normally employ H-2B workers had their applications rejected when they applied in spring 2004.

Employers formed an organization seeking an "emergency" increase in the cap.

The number of H-2B visas rose from 10,000 in 1995 to more than 60,000 in 2002. Resort hotels and crab processors complained that they could not hire H-2B seasonal foreign workers after the 66,000 annual quota was exhausted. In Virginia, crab processors report that an experienced US or H-2B picker paid the prevailing rate of $2.25 per pound for crab meat can earn between $65 and $100 a day; some processors pay H-2B workers the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

J-1. Some summer hotels that had assumed that H-2B workers would return, used the J-1 program to obtain workers instead. J-1 educational and cultural exchange visas allow foreigners to work while in the US.

Foreign doctors trained in the US must normally return to their home countries after they complete their training. However, if they agree to serve in medically underserved areas, they can obtain waivers from the return requirement. Each state has a flexible cap of 30 visa waivers a year for foreign doctors.

Julia Oliver, "Farm workers from Mexico toil in N.C. Fields," Fayetteville Observer, June 11, 2004. Debra Siedt, "Farmers in need of help hope federal agriculture immigrant worker program will be overhauled," Daily Record (Baltimore, MD), June 4, 2004.

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