WENATCHEE, Wash. — Greater flexibility in when foreign agricultural guestworkers can start work is an improvement in the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed H-2A-visa program revisions, a labor attorney says.

Employers can begin work within 14 days of their listed first date of need and will be able to stagger entry of workers for up to 120 days after that date, Leon Sequeira, a Kentucky labor attorney, told growers Sept. 26 at a Wafla farm labor conference in Wenatchee.

Sequeira was an assistant secretary of Labor in the last Bush administration and has assisted clients, including Wafla, in working on the DOL’s most recent proposed H-2A revisions.

Another improvement is that employers will only have to continue trying to recruit domestic workers for 30 days after the date of need instead of 50% of a contract, which can last up to 10 months, Sequeira said.

Employers also will be allowed to change the number of workers they request and their work locations within the general original area of intended employment and application terms. Sometimes weather or other issues change an employer’s needs, Sequeira said.

The proposed rule changes also require employers to pay an H-2A worker’s transportation from the American consulate in the country of origin, not the worker’s hometown, to the place of employment and back, he said.

The Obama administration had changed it to the worker’s hometown, he said.

Among the negatives, Sequeira said DOL requires employers to raise minimum wages but does not allow them to decrease them if DOL changes the minimum in mid-contract. DOL allows states to impose higher prevailing wage minimums in mid-contract and determines a worker’s minimum pay by their highest-paid job if they do more than one task or job, he said.

The proposed rule changes also remove due process for employers to appeal notices of deficiencies from DOL, he said.

Employers must try to hire farm labor contract employees who worked for them through a farm labor contractor the previous season, he said.

“The problem is contractors won’t like their employees being poached,” he said.

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