Jan 15, 2021
DOL issues final rule to modernize H-2A temporary ag labor certification program

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Jan. 15 a final rule that modernizes the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Certification Program.

According to a news release, the Department’s Employment and Training Administration, and Wage and Hour Division are issuing this final rule in response to the extensive public comments received from farmers, farmworkers, as well as advocates and associations for both groups from across the country.

This rule will modernize the Department’s H-2A regulations in response to stakeholder concerns and enhance employer access to a legal source of agricultural labor, while maintaining the program’s protections for the U.S. workforce and enhancing enforcement against fraud and abuse.

“This final rule will streamline and simplify the H-2A application process, strengthen protections for U.S. and foreign workers, and ease unnecessary burdens on employers,” said Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training John Pallasch. “It is a victory for farmers, agricultural workers, and the American people, who rely on a vibrant agricultural sector to supply food for our families.”

The rule mandates electronic filing of job orders and applications, bringing the H-2A application process into the digital era and harnessing the power of electronic filing through the Foreign Labor Application Gateway system to share information with federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, and with State Workforce Systems and domestic farmworkers.

It also provides small employers that cannot offer full-time work for their H-2A employees with an opportunity to participate in the H-2A program by establishing new standards that permit individual employers possessing the same need for agricultural services or labor to file a single application and job order to employ workers jointly in full-time employment.

Additionally, the rule will provide additional flexibilities that will reduce unnecessary burdens on the agricultural employers that use the program. These flexibilities include the ability to stagger the entry of workers into the country over a 120-day period, allowing agricultural employers the flexibility to file a single application for different start dates of need within a certified employment period instead of multiple applications.

The rule will strengthen protections for U.S. and foreign workers by enhancing standards applicable to rental housing and public accommodations, strengthening surety bond requirements, and expanding the Department’s authority to use enforcement tools like program debarment for substantial violations of program rules.

Learn more about H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Certification Program. The Department will publish the final rule in the Federal Register at a later date. Read the final rule.

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

Agriculture secretary responds

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today issued a statement applauding the Department of Labor’s final rule modernizing the H-2A visa program:

“This final rule streamlining and modernizing the H-2A visa process will go a long way in ensuring American farmers have access to a stable and skilled workforce, all while removing unnecessary bureaucratic processes. USDA’s goal is to help farmers navigate the complex H-2A program that is administered by Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department so hiring a farm worker is an easier process,” said Secretary Perdue. “These modernizations make the Federal government more responsive to our customers, ensuring American agriculture continues to lead the world for years to come.”
Background:
The final rule will streamline the H-2A application process by mandating electronic filing of job orders and applications. These elements are designed to bring the H-2A application process into the digital era, by harnessing the power of the FLAG electronic filing system to share information with other federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security while also sharing information with the state workforce systems and domestic farmworkers.
Additionally, the final rule will provide additional flexibilities to cut down on unnecessary burdens on the agricultural employers that use the program. These flexibilities include the ability to stagger the entry of workers into the country over a 120-day period and allowing agricultural employers the flexibility to file a single application for different dates of need instead of multiple applications.



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