GAO Recommends USDOL, DHS Reduce Roadblocks for Employers in H-2A Processing
The H-2A visa program allows U.S. employers anticipating a shortage of domestic agricultural workers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis. Over 90 percent of employer applications for H-2A workers were approved in fiscal year (FY) 2011, but some employers experienced processing delays, GAO says. For example, the DOL processed 37 percent after the deadline, including 7 percent that were approved less than 15 days before workers were needed. GAO says this left some employers little time for the second phase of the application process, which is managed by Homeland Security, and for workers to obtain visas from the Department of State. Employers also reported delays due to increased scrutiny by DOL and DHS when these agencies implemented new rules and procedures intended to improve program integrity and protect workers, GAO reports.
DOL and DHS are developing new electronic application systems, but both agencies’ systems have been delayed; DOL also recently began using e-mail to resolve issues with employers, and provided more information to employers to clarify program requirements, GAO says, but points out that even with these efforts, some employers view DOL decisions as inconsistent.
“For example, some employers received different decisions about issues such as whether they can require workers to have experience in farm work and questioned the methods states used to decide whether the job qualifications in their applications were acceptable. We found states used different methods to determine acceptable qualifications, which is allowed under Labor’s guidance,” GAO says.