Senators concerned with H-2A
Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, along with a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues, recently expressed concerns with how the H-2A visa program—critical to providing labor for agricultural producers in Colorado and around the country—is being administered.
In a letter led by Bennet to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, the senators raised questions brought to them by producers about administrative delays resulting in labor shortages as well as a lack of uniformity in the application of H-2A regulations. The senators emphasized that while a more effectively administered H-2A program does not diminish the need for larger immigration reform, it would provide relief to producers with growing struggles around labor shortages.
“This program has been a critical lifeline to producers unable to find local labor for short-lived work that can be rigorous and intensive,” the senators wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, we have heard growing concerns from producers and others that are familiar with the H-2A program about problems with how it is administered.”
The current H-2A program is authorized under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and was created to help fill agricultural-related labor shortages by allowing for the admission of guest workers of a temporary or a seasonal nature. In the letter, the senators noted that the Labor Department lowered its target compliance rate for timely decisions from 95 percent in 2006 and 2007 to 57 percent in 2011 and 2012. Additionally, since 2008, appeals of denied H-2A applications have grown by 800 percent.
The letter urges the secretary to work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, which also manage the H-2A program, to host regional meetings with producers to improve communication and identify ways to improve the administration of H-2A.
The letter is part of Bennet’s push to address concerns about labor and immigration in the agricultural community. During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing last month, he raised producers’ concerns about how the broken immigration system is jeopardizing farms and ranches in Colorado and across the country to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Along with Bennet, senators signing the letter were Sherrod Brown, D-OH, Michael B. Enzi, R-WY, Mike Crapo, R-ID, Bill Nelson, D-FL, and James E. Risch, R-ID. — WLJ