By DAN WHEAT
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington Farm Labor Association will escort several employers from Washington state to a job fair in Nogales, Mexico, to recruit H-2A guestworkers.
The U.S. Consulate in Nogales expects to have about 2,000 potential workers from Mexico and 40 to 50 employers from across the U.S. at the Feb. 11 event at a Nogales conference center, said Patricia Khan, the association's H-2A program manager in Olympia.
It's the first time such a job fair is being held in the Mexican state of Sonora for Mexicans seeking seasonal work in the U.S., Kahn said.
The consulate is hosting the job fair to make it easier for U.S. employers who want legal workers to find them and for the workers to find jobs, she said.
U.S. employers and the Washington Farm Labor Association typically has found most of its H-2A workers in central and southern Mexico, which are known for agricultural workers, Kahn said.
"But getting them from the northern states of Sonora and Chihuahua will save our clients time and money in getting them here," she said.
Employers hiring H-2A guestworkers have to pay their transportation from and back to Mexico and provide housing at their U.S. jobs.
The U.S. Department of Labor certified 4,546 H-2A workers for Washington state employers in 2012, up from 3,182 in 2011 and 2,991 in 2010, according to Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
The Washington Farm Labor Association helped 27 clients get about 3,000 H-2A workers in 2012 and has 10 or 12 new clients this year, Kahn said.
Many H-2A workers from last year will be rehired this year but the association needs about 1,000 new H-2A workers to replace ones who don't return and for new requests, Kahn said. She said she hopes to recruit a good portion of the 1,000 at the job fair.
The majority of H-2A workers the association hires or helps employers hire work in Central Washington tree fruit, but a few work in vegetables and a vineyard and some work in reforestation and landscaping in Western Washington, she said.
Kahn and Felix Vargas, the association's senior adviser, will accompany Washington employers to the job fair and recruit workers.
"In addition to meeting job seekers, employers can get a sense of the entire process and get to know consular officers who will work their programs," Vargas said.
The U.S. Consulate is hosting the job fair in coordination with Sonora's Secretary for Labor and Productivity Juan Edmundo Lopez Durand, the National Chamber of Commerce and the city of Nogales.