The decision by Congress to delay a United States Department of Labor (DOL)-mandated wage increase that would have doubled the hourly rate compensation for foreign agricultural guest workers has been applauded by Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain. However, Strain reiterated his call for an efficient national guest worker policy.

“The agricultural community, not just in Louisiana, but throughout the nation, demands a streamlined process that will allow producers to pay foreign guest workers a fair wage to fill agricultural job vacancies,” Strain said.

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An effort led by Louisiana Rep. Rodney Alexander successfully blocked the H-2B Final Wage Rule that would have doubled wages for fruit pickers, crawfish peelers and other such workers.

“Agricultural producers would have had to pay their 2012 workers rates 30 to 100 percent higher than they paid in 2011,” Strain said. “The rule’s delay will help Louisiana’s aquaculture producers for the 2012 season, but there will be problems for our sugar industry when the measure expires in September.”

Strain said pressure from his office and other state agricultural commissioners as well as the Louisiana congressional delegation is having an effect.“Agriculture is too critical to our nation’s economy for this issue to get entangled in politics. The agricultural community wants, needs and demands reform in the guest worker policy.”

Strain said the H-2B provision of the DOL rules allow U.S. employers to bring in foreign nationals for work if employers can establish that the need for workers is temporary and/or seasonal and demonstrate there are not sufficient American workers who are available to do the work. The number of H-2B guest workers is capped at 66,000 per year. The Gulf Coast seafood industry uses about 3,000 of these workers each year.

“Crawfish, shrimp, and crab processors and agricultural producers establish the need for temporary workers each year and are never able to fill the jobs locally.”

Strain has proposed a plan that involves pre-processing foreign workers for a five year period. “Ninety percent of guest workers brought into the country come year after year to work in our crawfish plants, crawfish ponds, agricultural fields and hospitality industries, many for the same employers. We have to implement a pre-processing system that will be good for five years. If guest workers have already worked in the U.S. and did a good job and stayed out of trouble in our country and in their own country, then our seafood and agricultural employers should be allowed to bring those workers into the U.S. to work without unnecessary delays and expense.”