Thursday, April 17, 2008

AFSC Responds to Proposed H-2A Visa Program Changes

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

On April 14, AFSC submitted public commentary on proposed changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program requirements. "With more than four decades engaged in direct community work and partnerships with farm workers and their families, and other leading faith organizations, AFSC is troubled that proposed changes to the H-2A Visa program lack a coherent process for the integration of workers," AFSC stated in the comment to the Department of Labor. AFSC joined hundreds of organizations including Farmworker Justice to issue comments in opposition to the Administration's plan to overhaul the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. Photo Credit: Echando Raices/Taking Root.

> Read more of AFSC's response here.

Changes Reduce Wages and Labor Protections

In February, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed new regulations to change the H-2A guestworker program, which they claim will make it easier for farmers to obtain a much-needed workforce through legal channels. However, the proposed regulations significantly reduce the wages of agricultural guest-workers and weaken the already modest labor protections.

The proposed regulations mandate the use of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) database in order to calculate the wages of the workers. According to advocacy organizations Farmworker Justice and United Farm Workers (UFW), the use of the flawed BLS surveys significantly reduce workers' wages.

Congressional Leaders Urge Withdrawal of Proposed Regulations

Last month five senior members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao urging the DOL to withdraw the proposed H-2A regulations.

The proposed regulations "fly in the face of the very purpose" of the DOL, wrote the House members, which is to promote and foster the welfare of the wage earners in the U.S. and improve their working conditions.

Needed Reforms Must Not Compromise Worker Rights

AFSC emphasizes that much-needed reform to the H-2A program must not compromise worker rights and also ensure that all workers are protected and treated in compliance with national labor standards. Furthermore, any changes to the H-2A program should involve the oversight and leadership of appropriate Congressional leaders and committees charged with safeguarding worker rights and labor protections.

AFSC will monitor the unfolding discussion and work with faith and other organizations including community organizations and unions to ensure that the nation's workers are protected. We will remain attentive and continue to speak in support of policy proposals and humane measures, which strengthen the rights of all workers and remain true to the nation's founding principles of due process and justice.