Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Feds try ease entry of workers, as immigration crackdown leaves fields short of harvest labor

Federal agencies have begun rewriting rules on legal foreign workers in an effort to fill the labor gap created by a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, the Los Angeles Times reports. Officials at the U.S. departments of Homeland Security, State and Labor are attempting to adjust the farm-worker program by "lengthening the time workers may stay, expanding the types of work they can do, simplifying the way applications are processed and even redefining terms such as 'temporary,'" writes Nicole Gaouette. Still, time is running short for many areas experiencing labor shortages, such as in California's Imperial Valley (above in a Times photo by Mark Boster) or the San Joaquin Valley where there is a 20 percent shortfall. Many just hope that help arrives in time for the harvest. "It's like a ticking time bomb that's going to go off," Luawanna Hallstrom, chief operating officer of Harry Singh & Sons, a third-generation family farm in Oceanside that grows tomatoes, told Gaouette. "I'm looking at my fellow farmers and saying, 'Oh my God, what's going on?'"

Fewer than 2 percent of American farms use the existing program. One of the key areas for change would be the H2A visa program, which has been notorious for its inefficiency, Gaouette writes. On average 60,000 applications for H2A visas have been filed in the past, just a dent in the 3 million farm jobs that need to be filled now. In addition to gripes about the old process, some farmers complain about the increased wages an H2A worker receives compared to an illegal one. (Read more)

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