We Already Have a Farm Labor Guest Worker Program—A Beautiful H-2a Visa

Cesar Chavez dream has already come true. WE ALREADY HAVE A FARM LABOR GUEST WORKER PROGRAM —A BEAUTIFUL H-2a Visa, so why are some farmers not willing to use it?

Cesar Chavez' dream has come true. Have you all heard about the Tempoaray Agricultural Worker Visa? The H-2a. Also, the proposed H-2c would make it even better. The H-2a is the fulfillment of Cesar Chavez' dream for fair pay, housing, keeping families together, and an unlimited number of H-2a visas are available. 

I would like to contribute to the discussion this fact that transforms—in one day—an "illegal immigrant" from an illegal temporary agricultural seasonal worker—into a "documented worker" who receives housing, medical, transportation and renewable legal visas for family, too. We are absolutely incorrect to say "we need a guest worker program"—The fact is that we actually have an amazingly efficient guest worker program, and streamlined by email for farmers when seeking H-2a work visas. The Dept of Labor is extremely busy right now making this visa easier than ever to use. The problem is that many farmers prefer to exploit illegal workers for bigger profits, that is the reason. 

The H-2a visa is a temporary agricultural work visa. It is good for 364 days, and is renewable. Many farmers already use it, and have for decades. I have copious information about prosperous farmers from Montana to Georgia and North Carolina who have all the legal, documented workers they need. They also follow the law. A great comprehensive source of unbiased information is Roy Beck of www.numbersusa.com, with 1.3 million members. Please check out the website for an amazing amount of easily digestible and constantly new information. I would like everybody to start asking the farmers, who cry they suffer a labor shortage, this one question, "why won't you use the H-2a visa?"  

I would also love to hear from a United Farm Workers rep who seem to ignore the real value of the H-2a. This guest worker program is the best tool we have to ensure fair treatment, legality of labor, and enough workers. The system is not broken, but farmers who do not use the H-2a are causing big problems for themselves and forcing their hard-working immigrants to remain illegal.

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Dvera Saxton September 26, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Actually Beverly, research indicates that that is not exactly true. As an anthropologist, I know plenty of farmworkers who work for abusive employers who break many, many laws. We can't get all romantic about small farmers because in reality, all farmers are in the same labor boat. I also think that the films "Harvest of Loneliness" and "The Guest Worker" shows how easily guest worker programs can become abusive, whether the employers "follow the law" or not. There are no easy answers...
Scott Hallgren September 26, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Dvera is right, there are no easy answers and in fact, we need to be asking tougher questions. My first questions is, when you say farmers aren't using this program, how do you qualify that? Who is/is not using the program and what do farmers on both side have to say? My second question is, what do farmworkers say about the program? These questions matter. On paper the H2A program looks great, but in reality it is not what it is chalked up to be. First and foremost, despite claims that the program has been "streamlined" it is actually a bureaucratic nightmare for both farmers and farmworkers. Second, even with the provisions of the H2A, farmworkers are still being exploited because no one is enforcing the provisions. Laws are only as strong as the entities enforcing them. Also consider, if farmworkers are vulnerable, how will they enforce their own rights? And Beverly, while I am personally more concerned with the treatment of human beings than their immigration status, I can tell you that even the most well intentioned farmers are likely to have hired undocumented workers simply because they do not have the necessary resources to accurately verify each and every worker. So, in my opinion, we should not only be asking why the H2A isn't being used, but also, is it really the right solution? To answer that requires more than just a review of it's proposed intentions; it requires an actual analysis of real world conditions.
Ronald Lazar September 26, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Excellent points made by Cathy, Beverly, Question Mark and Scott. The most current proposals are to replace the H-2a with the H-2c, which would make it much easier for farmers to hire a documented worker by moving the program out of the Dept of Labor, and placing the program under the Department of Agriculture. The H-2c would allow, for example, an employer to provide a housing vouchers to employees, and cover transportation costs, rather than have to provide the housing and transportation themselves. My most valuable resources for information are UC Davis, The PEW Hispanic Center, www.NumbersUSA.com and, for example, USDA publication online: www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/State_Crop_and_Condition/index.asp Examples of places where farm labor is handled very well: North Carolina Growers Association. As to the visa processing, The Dept of Labor has a pilot e-mail program allowing the Dept of Labor to establish a dedicated e-mail address for growers to ask direct questions to the National Processing Center in Chicago - TLC.Chicago@dol.gov E-Verify provides 99% accuracy, is mandated for all Federally contracted employers, and is participated in all 50 states. No program is perfect, certainly, but these programs are available to all farmers, and are being improved. An excellent comparison of how illegal workers are treated versus H-2a workers, see "A tale of two workers: H-2a farm labor vs. undocumented" by Gabriel Silverman, Medill Reports, Nov 7, 2011.
Ronald Lazar September 26, 2012 at 07:14 PM
One more thing, it is not really true when employers say that the H-2a visa program is too cumbersome. Read "Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North" NY Times. Here is a brief excerpt: "A lawyer with a white beard and a quick tongue, Mr. McKeon arrived in the summer of 2007. And after more than 30 years working in consular affairs in China, Japan and elsewhere, he quickly decided to make changes in Mexico. Working within administrative rules, State Department officials say, he re-engineered the visa program to de-emphasize the affordability standard that held that visas were to be denied to those who could not prove an income large enough to support travel to the United States." Attorney McKeon also states, "For H-2As, Mexican workers can now receive their documents the same day that they apply." "http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/07/06/world/americas/immigration.html
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