A panel discussion at Citrus Expo’s general session aimed to help make the federal H-2A foreign guest worker program a little easier for agriculturists to navigate. The panel included a grower representative who has used H-2A, a labor attorney who is an H-2A expert, and a federal Department of Labor (DOL) regional director. Natalie Gupton, director of business services and industry relations for AgSafe, moderated the panel and provides a summary of discussions.
Gupton says the labor attorney, Andy Jackson, discussed the process of utilizing and complying with H-2A, including documenting the need for H-2A workers because sufficient domestic workers can’t be obtained. The grower representative, Ismael Delgado, shared what he’d learned from using the H-2A program for 13 years. Mike Rios, the DOL regional director, discussed the most common violations within the program, Gupton says. Common violations occur in the wage, housing and transportation segments of the program, she adds.
H-2A is “a program that’s growing exponentially nationwide,” Gupton says. “Florida has been a huge user of the program for many years.”
Gupton says a notice of proposed rulemaking has been circulating regarding changes to the H-2A program. The changes, she says, are “nothing too drastic, but then there’s some great changes that could make the program much more user friendly.”
One key change is to what she calls the 50 percent rule. “As the rule stands, you have a contract period for your H-2A workers,” she says. For 50 percent of that period, “if a domestic worker shows up and says he wants to work for you, you have to hire (him). And that can be quite cumbersome when you’re in the middle of a harvest season.” Another change will allow growers to stagger the times when different numbers of H-2A workers are used, she says. That change is needed “because your needs vary across the growing season,” she concludes.
Hear more from Gupton in this interview with Citrus Industry Editor Tacy Callies:
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