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- 05-07-2012, 07:24 AM #1
Idaho farmers: We need immigrant workers
Idaho farmers: We need immigrant workers
By SEAN COCKERHAM — firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 12:00am on May 7, 2012
Steven Tarbet, CFO of Flying H Farms in Mountain Home, employs three workers from Mexico through the H-2A visa program. His company grows mostly potatoes but also alfalfa and wheat. The workers come to Idaho in the middle of March and work until November, sending money back to relatives.
Jim Little of Emmett says the government is making it too difficult for Idaho farmers to follow the rules and employ legal immigrants rather than border jumpers.
flying h farms,
“It seems like they take great joy in piling on minutia and things we have to do,” said Little, who grows grain and hay and is the brother of Lt. Gov. Brad Little.
There’s widespread frustration among farmers in Idaho and across the country over the H-2A visa program for seasonal agriculture workers. The foreign workers are eager to do physical labor Americans won’t, they say.
A bipartisan group of six U.S. senators from Idaho, Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Wyoming wrote the Department of Labor to express concerns with the system “and its serious implication on producers and our nation’s food supply.”
Frustration over the visa program helped drive Little’s daughter, Rochelle Oxarango, and her husband mostly out of the Idaho sheep-ranching business.
“We needed four new workers from Peru. I started the paperwork in July and our workers didn’t arrive until February,” Oxarango said in an interview. “It’s really hard to depend on a program that takes that long to get workers here. We had to sell most of our sheep last year and this was one of the driving factors. It was just getting too hard to manage the labor situation.”
That’s a growing problem, said Michaelene Rowe of the Snake River Farmers Association, an Idaho group that helps farmers with visa issues. Getting a temporary H-2A for a farm worker is a confusing and painful process for an employer who is trying to hire immigrants legally, Rowe said.
“This is counterproductive to the national discussion and political rhetoric related to the need to employ only legally documented workers,” she said.
Employers say that to use the program, they must deal with complicated paperwork and go through multiple federal agencies: the Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. The recent letter from the six senators, including Idaho’s Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, cited “numerous cases in which unnecessary administrative delays resulted in not having enough labor to perform needed work.”
“Users routinely bring to our attention cases where applications are delayed or denied due to minor discrepancies related to language or officers applying an unreasonable degree of scrutiny that results in costly appeals to taxpayers,” the senators complained.
Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates said in response that her department is working with farmers to try to process applications more efficiently. That includes a revamped website, an employer handbook and an ombudsman program to deal with issues, she said.
The Department of Labor reports that 78,759 positions were requested in 2011 through the H-2A visa program for agricultural guest workers, and 68,088 were certified. Of applications that met all requirements, the department said, 74 percent were processed no later than 30 days before the employers’ needed start date.
“We know that employers with legitimate needs are successfully using the H-2A program,” Oates said.
The Department of Labor emphasized that growers can obtain the legal foreign labor only after they’ve first recruited U.S. workers and given them a fair shot at the job. Idaho growers say that’s part of the problem, with farmers required to hire and train Americans even if they have a foreign worker who’s skilled, experienced and trusted.
Rowe, of the Snake River Farmers Association, said that most H-2A users employ some Americans but that the required U.S. worker recruitment process has turned out to be a “miserable failure that frustrates most program participants.”
“This often comes from their own experiences when local workers fail to show up, work a few days and quit, or perform work in an unsatisfactory manner,” she said.
Flying H Farms in Mountain Home hired a local worker last month to move irrigation pipes but found it took him a day to do the same amount of work each of its three Mexican H-2A workers do in an hour, said Steven Tarbet, chief financial officer for the farm.
The American came to see Tarbet after a week on the job.
“He told me he didn’t want to move lines and this wasn’t the job for him,” Tarbet said. “We just can’t find American people to do the work.”
Rigby-area farmer Danny Ferguson said the work is seasonal and there’s not a surplus of skilled Americans willing to endure the hard, physical labor and long days out in the field. Too often the U.S. workers “are lazy, don’t want to be there, don’t want to put in the time and don’t do anything,” Ferguson said.
“The problem with the program is that as long as we have an H-2A employee, we basically have an opening on the farm for a U.S. worker,” Ferguson said. “I have to advertise across the nation for U.S. workers. And sometimes we’ll get some people who will come ... but they don’t actually want to work.”
Sean Cockerham, (202) 383-6016, is the Washington correspondent for the Idaho Statesman. Follow him on twitter @seancockerham.
Read more here: Idaho farmers: We need immigrant workers | Idaho Economy | Idahostatesman.comThe price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. Plato
- 05-07-2012, 11:47 AM #2U.S. Constitution - Article IV, Section 4: GUARANTEES AMERICA FROM INVASION!