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The H-2A Program: Protections for U.S. Farmworkers

PEMD-89-3 Published: Oct 21, 1988. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 1988.
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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) wage and nonwage protection that the Department of Labor's (DOL) regulations afford U.S. farmworkers under the H-2A Program, which allows for the admission of foreign agricultural workers; and (2) quality of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) surveys DOL used to set minimum wages and to certify a shortage of U.S. workers.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Labor To ensure that the wage minimums set by DOL to protect U.S. workers from the adverse effects of the H-2A program are reasonably accurate, the Secretary of Labor should: (1) negotiate with USDA to provide routine analysis of error margins surrounding the wage estimates on which statewide minimum hourly wage rates are based and improve the survey as necessary to maintain reasonably small margins of error around such estimates; (2) provide greater oversight and guidance to the state agencies conducting the prevailing wage surveys, including revising the survey handbook and forms to improve consistency of procedures and ability to monitor quality of implementation; and (3) consider converting units of payment to a common base to ensure that prevailing wage findings are calculated on the largest possible number of workers surveyed.
Closed – Not Implemented
USDA is testing a new summary system which will provide estimates of error margins in its wage survey data, to be completed by November 1991. DOL published proposed changes to the prevailing wage survey handbook and forms in the October 24, 1989 Federal Register, but all formal changes to the survey handbook were postponed. Some additional training has been provided to states to improve surveys.
Department of Labor To improve the prevailing wage surveys, the Secretary of Labor should: (1) provide guidance on handling discrepancies, since the handbook directs interviewers to verify employer-supplied information with employee-supplied data; (2) remove the present cells for average hourly earnings, based on combining information from several interviewed workers, unless required for other than verification of employer data, and supplement interview records with forms that record individual wage information from workers and any calculations performed by the interviewer; (3) revise the survey summary form to better alert Employment and Training Administration (ETA) regional and national offices of problems that reduce the quality of the survey; (4) confer with state officials about the problems affecting quality for particular surveys and, if necessary, provide or facilitate training or technical aid; and (5) be especially watchful that mail surveys are adequate and, if not, provide guidance on ways to increase response rates or, alternatively, require other methods of data collection.
Closed – Not Implemented
Proposed informal changes in the prevailing wage surveys were critized in 1990 by Congress and outside groups as unduly favorable to growers. DOL agreed to publish them for comment, but has not done so. Key technical staff have retired and legal staff are occupied with mandated regulations for other immigration law changes. No action is planned in the near future.
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should improve worker protections under the current law by finding means to incorporate referred workers' accounts of reasons for not being hired or being fired.
Closed – Not Implemented
DOL completed ten crop-area studies selectively monitoring referred workers' accounts in 1989-1990 and decided no general problem existed that required any change in procedures. The complaint process remains available for any U.S. worker who believes employers have not acted fairly.

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Agricultural productionImmigrantsLabor forceLabor statisticsMinimum wage ratesPersonnel recruitingProgram managementWage surveysWorking conditionsH-2A Visas