Jan. 9, 2008
Law research finds U.S. farm workers hurt by guest worker visa process
Research by a University of Iowa law student has found domestic farm workers in the United States frequently face low wages and poor working conditions because of federal mismanagement of a guest worker visa program and inattention by farm worker advocate groups.
"As the regular use of guest workers has spread across the country, the Department of Labor has failed to ensure the importation of foreign workers does not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of the domestic workforce," said Alison K. Guernsey, a third-year law student, whose research was recently published in the Iowa Law Review.
"These adverse effects have intensified as farm worker unions have begun to sidestep their traditional domestic constituencies in order to represent the increasing number of guest workers in the country," she said.
Guernsey said her research has found the Department of Labor is approving H-2A applications for guest farm workers that do not comply with federal law. Specifically, she said the applications do not meet the federal requirement that employers must demonstrate a shortage of farm labor in a community, making foreign-born guest workers necessary.
The applications also fail to demonstrate that the addition of the guest workers to the local labor force will not hurt local workers, as required by law.
Guernsey said the Department of Labor is approving the non-compliant applications because farm management companies increasingly need labor, and foreign-born migrant workers can be paid less money than local workers.
"Pressure from the agricultural industry to provide growers with quick resolutions to perceived labor problems causes the Labor Department to overlook many deficiencies in the applications," she said.
At the same time, Guernsey said farm worker unions are putting more effort into organizing these migrant workers instead of the domestic workforce because the guest workers form a large and easily accessible membership pool. As a result, domestic workers have less representation in a process that often results in wages sinking and working conditions worsening.
To address the problem, Guernsey said that the Department of Labor should give more scrutiny to guest worker applications to make sure the information presented by the employer is accurate and honest, and establish a more transparent application process.
In addition, she said local workers should be given an avenue for appealing approved applications for foreign-born guest workers in their communities. Guernsey said local workers could use this process to provide information to the Labor Department that reveals faulty applications.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.