From BuffaloNews.com, Jerry Zremski, News Washington Bureau Chief, 14 Sept 2011.
Labor Department moves to ease plight of farmers
WASHINGTON— Rep. Louise M. Slaughter appears to be winning her battle to get the federal bureaucracy to ease up on local farmers who are struggling to find migrant workers to bring in the crops.
The U. S. Department of Labor has implemented several measures, and has several more planned, that aim to speed the process of allowing migrant farm workers to get temporary visas, Deputy Labor Secretary Seth D. Harris said in a letter to Slaughter that she released Tuesday.
Slaughter, D-Fairport, said she was pleased with the Labor Department moves.
“After months of work and input from my friends who grow upstate New York’s fruit and vegetables, I’m delighted to see changes being made to assure them that they have the work force they need before this harvest season,” said Slaughter.
“Farmers already gamble with the weather, with commodity prices and with invasive pests — they shouldn’t have to gamble with federal paperwork to obtain a legal work force, and I’m doing everything I can to see that they don’t,” added Slaughter, who convened a meeting with local farmers and top Labor Department officials on the issue over the summer.
In his letter to Slaughter, Harris said the department:
- Had implemented a new email program to allow farmers in New York and New England to better communicate with the Labor Department about specific visa applications.
- Will, by the end of October, award a contract to begin converting the temporary-worker visa application process — which is still done on paper — into a web-based filing system.
- Will publish a handbook for farmers, explaining how to apply for the “H-2A” temporary visas for their workers.
- Will establish a process in which farmers and the agency will be in regular contact so that they can spot problems and delays early on and correct them.
“We understand the important role the agriculture sector, especially apple production, plays in New York’s economy,” Harris said in his letter to Slaughter. “We share your concerns about this work force issue and view the H-2A program as a means by which growers may obtain foreign labor, but only when they have recruited U. S. workers and given them a fair opportunity to secure these jobs.”