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Gillibrand releases GAO farm worker study, asks Labor for change in application process

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand-N.Y

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., today released a Government Accountability Office study of the H-2A visa program and challenged Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to allow farmers to submit one application for multiple workers, even though the Labor Department said it disagreed with GAO’s proposed change.

GAO suggested several changes in application procedures, and said the program could function more efficiently if Labor would allow employers to file a single application per season for workers arriving on different start dates.

But the Labor Department told GAO that the department’s regulations define the date of need as the first date the employer requires the services of all H-2A workers that are the subject of the application, not an indication of the first date of need for only some of the workers.

Labor also told GAO that having each employer file a single application with staggered dates of need would result in one recruitment for job opportunities that could begin many weeks or months after the original date of need, which could nullify the validity of the required labor market test.

“We are not recommending that employers conduct a single labor market test corresponding with their earliest date of need,” the Labor Department wrote.

Gillibrand wrote Solis a letter asking for reconsideration.

“This simple change would decrease the amount of paper work for the Department of Labor and would decrease the bureaucracy that farmers endure each growing season,” Gillibrand wrote Solis today. “As you know, this program is very important to the New York agricultural community and streamlining the process would encourage more farmers to use this useful program.”

The GAO report, Gillibrand noted, said that “currently, in order to have workers arrive at different points of the season, employers must repeat each step of the application process and file full, separate applications for each additional set of workers, even when the applications are substantially similar and the only difference is the date they indicate workers are needed.”

Gillibrand pointed out that, while Labor officials asserted that the reason this is necessary is to establish labor shortages in the United States, “the GAO found that most often these workers were requested to ‘arrive with a few weeks of each other, when labor market conditions are unlikely to change substantially.’ ”

“Therefore, this added paper work seems redundant and is time consuming and costly for farmers, and I hope that your agency will work with me to allow employers to submit just one application for groups of similar workers needed in a single season,” Gillibrand wrote.