With the issue of immigration reform in the spotlight, Florida Citrus Mutual is continuing to work with State and Federal legislators on the development of a meaningful and comprehensive reform package.
In the interim, we believe it’s important to remind the industry that one of the most viable current solutions is the H-2A temporary agricultural program, which enables employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary
To participate in the H-2A program, employers must submit an application to the U.S. Department of Labor stating that (a) there are not a sufficient number of willing, able, qualified and available domestic workers; and that (b) the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages or working conditions of other similarly employed U.S. workers.
It is imperative that employers carefully review each application and contract, as this document sets guidelines and restrictions for all aspects of employment.
The H-2A program includes many worker protections and employer requirements regarding wages and working conditions that do not apply to non-agricultural programs. Some key aspects of the program include housing, transportation and wages.
- Housing. Employers must provide free housing to all workers who do not live within reasonable commuting distance. The housing must be inspected yearly by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and monthly by Health and Rehabilitative Services.
- Transportation. In the state of Florida employers utilizing the H-2A program are responsible for the reimbursement of in-bound transportation expenses at the completion of the first pay period. In addition, employers are responsible for offering free transportation between the employee’s housing and worksite for any worker who is provided housing. If an employer provides transportation for H-2A workers, it also must be provided for domestic workers.
- Wages. The wages paid must be the same for H-2A and domestic workers. The hourly rate must be at least as high as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), federal or state minimum wage, or the prevailing hourly wage rate, whichever is highest. The AEWR is set each year by the Department of Labor.
Additionally, there are a number of other regulations and requirements that must be met during the application process and throughout utilization of the H-2A program.