Farmers are starting to use the H-2A foreign temporary agricultural worker program with greater frequency as finding domestic labor to tend fields becomes more difficult. Unfortunately, many of these farmers either do not take the time to learn how to comply with regulations for the H-2A visa program or do not hire competent counsel to advise them. The fines delivered for non-compliance with the H-2A program's requirements have more than tripled, costing farmers thousands of dollars and major damage to their reputations.
We recently came across an article in the Lexington Herald in Kentucky that highlights a story about a farmer receiving a $12,000 fine during their first experience with the H-2A program. The farmer's defense to the fines was that the legal counsel they used to facilitate the program did not properly explain how the program works.
According to the article and the complaint filed by advocates for the foreign migrant workers, the attorneys retained by the farmer did not explain proper living conditions, what payments were required by the farmer, and even attempted to collect payment directly from the workers. These are all potential violations of the program and subject the violator to federal prosecution. Ultimately, the lawyers were not held accountable for the violations which fell solely upon the farmer.
In addition, the article also included input from a Kentucky Congressman that is a leader in H-2A Visa reform
Kentucky House Agriculture Committee chairman Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, has sponsored legislative resolutions urging Congress to make the H-2A program cheaper and easier for farmers. McKee, a farmer himself, has used H-2A workers and says "it's a program that we couldn't grow tobacco without — not in any large amounts, anyway."
But he warns others to consult a qualified attorney before trying to bring workers into the country.
"There are timetables involved and things you're responsible for doing at different steps along the way, and if you've not done this before, it can look like a sea of paperwork," McKee said.
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