The federal Foreign Labor Certification Data Center is experiencing delays in processing foreign agricultural workers’ applications to work in the United States because of a dispute over prevailing wages in Pennsylvania.

Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said the processing delays could mean the Louisiana sugarcane harvest will be delayed.

“Sugar factories are trying to get their H-2B guest workers processed and on site ready to work,” Strain said. “Sugar mills are the only market for Louisiana sugarcane growers. If they do not open, then the cane will sit in the field with no place to go.”

Wage rates for H-2B workers will also substantially increase when the prevailing wage issues are settled.

“The big issue is, if the sugar mills cannot get the workers in the plants by harvest time, then the entire Louisiana sugar market will be negatively impacted,” Strain said.

Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugarcane League, said a wide cross section of the Louisiana sugar industry uses guest workers in the H-2A and H-2B programs to plant cane and work in sugar mills as laborers and boilers.

“Sugar boiling is a very specialized skill and many of the experienced sugar boilers are from Central America,” Simon said. “The sugar industry has had trouble getting guest workers into the country for several years and it underscores the need to streamline the process and reform the H-2A and H-2B program.”

Strain called for a reform of the guest worker program and proposed a plan to streamline the application, certification and approval process of foreign workers for H-2A and H-2B visa programs. “The majority of our guest workers return to the United States and work year after year in our farming and forestry industries, sugar mills, food processing plants and seafood plants. But their work visas must be processed every year.

“It’s time to implement a pre-processing system that will be good for five years. If guest workers have a work history in the U.S. and have no legal issues in our country or their native country, then our seafood and agricultural employers should be allowed to bring those workers back into the country for unfilled job vacancies to work without costly, unnecessary delays.”

For more information about foreign labor certification, visit the U.S. Department of Labor website at http://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/about.cfm.