Latest News

Below are our latest news on important news and events relating to policy changes and issues affecting farmworkers and their families.

July 26, 2019

For Release July 26, 2019                                 Contact: Adrienne DerVartanian

202-800-2522                                                        [email protected]

Trump Department of Labor Proposes Harmful Changes to H-2A Agricultural Guestworker Program

On July 26, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor planned to publish proposed revisions in the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  The proposed changes appearing in the pre-publication release would make it even easier for agribusiness to hire hundreds of thousands of guestworkers, who are denied the rights and freedoms of immigrants and citizens.  The public may comment on the proposed revisions for a 60 day period.  The Labor Department will then review the comments and issue a final revision of the H-2A regulations.

The Trump Administration seeks to guarantee agribusiness unlimited access to a captive workforce that is deprived of economic bargaining power and the right to vote.  The Administration would transform the farm labor force of roughly 2.4 million people into a workforce of 21st-century indentured servants.  At the same time as this proposal, the Trump Administration is demonizing hard-working immigrants and ratcheting up cruel and counterproductive deportations, targeting many of our nation’s hard-working farmworkers. 

The proposal likely will exacerbate existing problems in the H-2A program by, among other things, expanding the scope of the program, weakening recruitment protections, shifting more costs onto workers and reducing housing inspections.  While the proposal contains a few modest improvements to the H-2A program, it fails to address many of the program’s failures and abuses, including rampant recruitment fees and exploitation, discrimination against U.S. workers in hiring, wage theft, unhealthy housing, unsafe working conditions and inadequate wage protections.  

The pre-publication version of the proposed rule and the accompanying explanation are 489 pages long.  We are reviewing the proposal and will be preparing a substantial analysis and formal comments. 

The proposal would sharply reduce the obligation to recruit U.S. workers.  Many H-2A employers prefer guestworkers over U.S. workers because H-2A workers are dependent on their employers for their ability to enter and work in the United States, and the fact that they are unable to seek out better wages or working conditions.  Strong recruitment requirements are needed due to a long history of discrimination.

The proposal would shift H-2A program costs from employers onto the backs of H-2A workers, who are predominantly from poor countries.  DOL proposes to reduce the employer’s reimbursement of the H-2A workers’ transportation costs.  Rather than reimburse costs starting from the workers’ home communities where they are recruited, the employer could pay the travel costs starting from the U.S. consulate, which is often far from the workers’ homes.  DOL calculates that during the next ten years, under this proposal, workers would lose, and employers would gain, $789.6 million, for an average of almost $80 million per year.

The rule proposes significant, complex changes to the wage rates required under the H-2A program for both U.S. and foreign workers.  Under the H-2A program, wages must be at least the higher of: the local "prevailing wage for a particular job category;" the state or federal minimum wage; the agreed-upon collective bargaining rate; or the "adverse effect wage rate” (AEWR).  The proposal includes changing the methodology for AEWRs, which are intended to ensure that the hiring of guestworkers does not undermine the wage standards for U.S. farmworkers by allowing employers to hire workers from high-poverty countries.  DOL admits that its proposed formula would have resulted in lower wages in several major agricultural production states if it had been in force. 

The rulemaking also includes changing the methodology for determining the prevailing wage in a way that would make it difficult to ensure a prevailing wage is even determined, resulting in large wage cuts for some farmworkers.

“The Trump Administration’s proposal would make it easier for farmers to bring in temporary foreign workers under substandard wages and working conditions, denying these valuable workers the economic and democratic freedoms on which this country is based,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. 

He added: “The Administration's immigration enforcement and threats against undocumented immigrants are harming farmworker families and undermining the agricultural sector, where a majority of workers are undocumented.  The Trump Administration is doing nothing to deal responsibly with the most basic challenge:  the majority of the current farm labor force is undocumented. Congress should grant undocumented farmworkers and their family members the opportunity for immigration status and a path to citizenship.”

The H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program, which originated during World War II, is intended to allow agricultural employers to hire foreign citizens on temporary work visas for temporary or seasonal agricultural work if they can demonstrate a shortage of labor and that the wages and working conditions will not “adversely affect” the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.   The H-2A program has been growing rapidly recently, from 139,832 jobs in 2015 to over 242,000 in 2018, undermining the argument that the program is too burdensome for employers.

Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers and has extensive experience regarding immigration policy, labor rights and the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  Our report, “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fail U.S. and Foreign Workers” is available on our website.

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July 16, 2019

For Immediate Release            

July 16, 2019                       

Contact: Bruce Goldstein, Farmworker Justice

202.293.5420 ext. 304 [email protected]

Trump Department of Labor Proposes Harmful Changes to H-2A Agricultural Guestworker Program

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced plans to engage in a sweeping revision of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  The proposed changes to the H-2A program regulations would reduce labor protections for U.S. workers and H-2A temporary foreign workers in a variety of ways.

The proposed rule and the accompanying explanation are 489 pages long.  We are reviewing the proposal and will be preparing a substantial analysis and formal comments. 

The proposal would sharply reduce the obligation to recruit U.S. workers.  The rule proposes eliminating the “50% rule,” a key protection for U.S. workers that requires employers to hire qualified U.S. workers through at least the mid-way point of the contract; and replacing it with a requirement to hire U.S. workers only for the first 30 days of a contract, or until the end of the staggered entry of H-2A workers (staggered entry also being a new provision that could make it more difficult for U.S. workers to learn of job opportunities at H-2A employers).  Some U.S. workers would lose job opportunities.

The proposal would shift H-2A program costs from employers onto the backs of H-2A workers, who are predominantly from poor countries.  DOL proposes to end requiring transportation cost reimbursement from the worker’s home in the country of origin to the place of employment, and only require that employers pay for transportation from the US consulate or embassy where the workers obtain their visa, which is often far from their homes.  A 2008 Bush rule made a similar change and the costs shifted to workers at the time was about $4.7 million; a cost that would be much higher today. 

The rule proposes significant, complex changes to the wage rates required under the H-2A program for both U.S. and foreign workers.  The proposal includes changing the methodology for the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), resulting in lower wages for many H-2A workers.  For example, the DOL notice apparently is indicating that under the proposed formula in California where the current AEWR is $13.92 per hour, the field workers’ would have been a dollar an hour lower at $12.92.  In Texas, the rate would be $11.53 for field workers, rather than the current $12.23.  Wage decreases would occur in other states, including Florida and New York.  For low-wage farmworkers these are harmful pay cuts that undermine the labor market.

It also includes changing the methodology for the prevailing wage for particular jobs in local areas in a way that makes it difficult to ensure a prevailing wage is even available.

“The Trump Administration’s proposal would make it easier for farmers to bring in temporary foreign workers under substandard wages and working conditions, denying these valuable workers  the economic and democratic freedoms on which this country is based,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  “The Administration's immigration enforcement and threats against undocumented immigrants are harming farmworker families and undermining the agricultural sector, where a majority of farmworkers are undocumented,” he added.  “The Trump Administration is doing nothing to deal responsibly with the most basic challenge:  the majority of the current farm labor force is undocumented.   Congress should grant undocumented farmworkers and their family members the opportunity for immigration status and a path to citizenship.”

The H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program, which originated during World War II, is intended to allow agricultural employers to hire foreign citizens on temporary work visas for temporary or seasonal agricultural work if they can demonstrate a shortage of labor and that the wages and working conditions will not “adversely affect” the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.   The H-2A program has been growing rapidly recently, from 139,832 jobs in 2015 to over 242,000 in 2018, undermining the argument that the program is too burdensome for employers.

Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers and has extensive experience regarding the H-2A program.  Our report, “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fail U.S. and Foreign Workers” is available on our website.

June 05, 2019

For Immediate Release                                      

Contact: Bruce Goldstein, Farmworker Justice, 202-800-2521

June 5, 2019                                                         

Farmworker Justice Applauds House Passage of the “Dream and Promise Act of 2019”

(Washington, DC)   Farmworker Justice commends the House of Representatives for its passage of the crucial piece of legislation, the “Dream and Promise Act of 2019,” H.R. 6, on June 4. The bill provides common sense and urgently needed immigration protections and a pathway to citizenship for individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein stated: “We applaud the House of Representative’s passage of the “Dream and Promise Act of 2019.”  Passage of the Dream and Promise Act bill is an important step toward achieving a greater measure of justice for approximately two million immigrants who contribute immensely to our country, economically and otherwise, including some of those who grow the food that we put on our tables. The need for immigration relief is acute for Dreamers, TPS holders, and DED recipients, particularly given the current Administration’s attempts to eliminate these programs. We urge the Senate to take up this bill to ensure commonsense and fair relief.”  

Farmworker Justice has endorsed this important legislation as one step toward fixing our broken immigration system. Farmworker Justice will continue its efforts to win a path to citizenship for all aspiring Americans, including undocumented farmworkers and their family members.  A majority of farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. 

Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers with over thirty-five years of experience serving the farmworker community regarding immigration and labor policy.