As summer harvest season approaches in North Georgia, Congressman Doug Collins of Gainesville told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee it's time to make some changes in the program that governs the hiring of temporary agriculture workers who are not U.S. residents.
Collins also used Jaemor Farms, which is based in the northeast Hall County area, as an example of just one farm family that plays by the rules of the H2A program, but is harmed by some of the logistical requirements.
"Farmers, like Drew Echols of Jaemor Farms, need help harvesting crops. Georgia peaches are fickle, so timing is everything — but the H2A system offers almost no flexibility," Collins said. "This means extra hands may arrive too early or too late to get fruit off the tree and into that homemade pie. Workers who arrive before crops have ripened aren’t allowed to find work on other farms while they wait."
Collins told fellow lawmakers applications for H2A workers are often not processed in a timely manner. Plus, it's difficult to find American workers to do the jobs that need to be done.
"Right now, to secure an H2A employee, growers must start with the Labor Department’s certification process. By law, the department must certify there are not sufficient 'able, willing, and qualified' U.S. workers to fill the job and employing an H2A worker 'will not adversely affect the wage or working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers,'" Collins said.
Collins said another part of the problem with the current H2A program is the cost.
"Any time growers must pay over a thousand dollars in fees per worker to the government and to a recruiter," Collins said. "In many states, agriculture employers are required to pay artificially high wage rates. The Adverse Effect Wage Rate is over $11 per hour at its lowest and over $15 an hour at its highest, depending on the state. On top of these costs, growers must provide transportation and housing to H2A workers once they arrive in the U.S."
Collins said H2A employers also are undercut by farmers who use workers not authorized to work in the United States.
Collins said in his statement that he does not support an agricultural worker bill that is in process, but he is hoping both Democrats and Republicans can work on a viable solution to aid farmers with a legal workforce.
See Collins' testimony here.