Backlog of H-2A applicants swells before rule change

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

Mike Gempler, director of the Washington Growers League, said a rush to apply for foreign workers is causing some backlogs in the federal program for importing guestworkers.

Many producers this year tried to file applications before March 15, when changes to the H-2A guestworker program took effect. The changes reverse alterations made by President George Bush in 2008, shortly before he left office.

Producers have complained that the system is cumbersome and doesn't fit the rhythms of food production. Bush's labor department smoothed out some difficulties, although most users say the program needs to be redesigned.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the reversal of the Bush changes would protect job opportunities for domestic citizens and improve pay for foreign workers, meanwhile allowing better enforcement of rule violations.

Producers have complained that protecting domestic workers is pointless because none apply for field work.

Gempler said it's still too early to tell how the changes will impact the process of importing agricultural guest workers. Users are also waiting to see whether the Labor Department encounters any glitches processing applications under the new rules.

There are also uncertainties over how the department will interpret the rules, Gempler said.

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