Our farmers need a better labor program
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I often hear from hard working Georgia farmers who need help navigating the laborious, slow, complicated and ineffective H-2A seasonal agriculture worker visa program. These workers, coming largely from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, are critical to help farmers reap their harvest on time.

Yet, these applications are siphoned through four federal agencies, use a paper process, and require farmers to pay arbitrary expenses while the workers often don’t even make it to the farm on time because of the government’s slow process. Sometimes this burdensome process forces farmers to let crops rot in the field.

The complexity of the current system punishes farmers who are attempting to abide by our federal laws through using the legal workforce, while giving a leg up to farmers who simply use illegal aliens.

Our farmers, crops and their communities are too important to allow this to happen. As my home state of Georgia’s top industry, the hard work of our farmers and producers significantly contributes to the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world. Allowing crops to rot in a field because of bureaucratic inefficiency is simply unacceptable.

That is why, since I arrived in Washington, I began tackling the problem.

In June 2017, I sent the first of multiple requests to the Department of Labor outlining critical changes for the H-2A program based on farmer’s comments in the 1st District of Georgia. Later that year, I organized a meeting to ensure bipartisan members of Congress could speak directly with Department of Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Trump officially nominates Eugene Scalia as Labor secretary pick Our farmers need a better labor program MORE to argue for reforms.

After a follow-up letter to that meeting and a copy sent to every agency that handles H-2A applications including the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, my office received a commitment that the agencies were working on the problem and would roll out reforms as soon as possible.  

In July, I was glad to see the Department of Labor announce a proposed rule to reform the H-2A program making the process much more accessible to the farmers who need it. Specifically, the proposal transitions the paper applications to a more streamlined electronic process, modifies requirements for workers’ rental and public housing, updates the basis for determining worker wages, allows farmers to stagger workers on a single application, and expands the program to ensure reforestation projects are eligible to use H-2A workers. Those changes are currently in the comment period, set to be finalized in September of this year.

Although the H-2A program needs even more work, these reforms are a start that will help ease the burden of finding labor to work on the farms.

I continue to encourage the federal agencies and my fellow members of Congress to improve on this important work and include other changes that will simplify and expedite the program further. However, this announcement by the Department of Labor in July is a strong step forward and I am excited to see the Trump administration supporting rural America, hearing farmers’ concerns and understanding the importance of those who grow our nation’s food.

Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter represents the First District of Georgia in the United States House of Representatives.