Yuma lawmaker: Change rules for housing farm workers
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Yuma lawmaker: Change rules for housing farm workers

A Yuma legislator wants the federal government to exempt farmers from having to provide housing for seasonal workers who commute daily to their homes in Mexico.

Rep. Russ Jones, a Republican, said a temporary foreign worker program that requires farmers to offer housing burdens employers in his area unnecessarily. That's because most of those working around Yuma return to their homes south of the border each night, he said.

"This is a very reasonable first step looking at how we can start modifying existing regulation and structure to accommodate our workforce need and be more flexible," Jones said.

He authored a memorial – a postcard of sorts – that would urge President Barack Obama and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor to change the housing requirement of the H-2A agricultural program.

The House has approved HCM 2003 and forwarded it to the Senate. The measure would require approval from both houses but doesn't need the governor's signature.

The federal government launched the H2-A program in 1952 to address an agricultural labor shortage by allowing farmers to hire temporary workers from foreign countries. One of its provisions is that farmers house the workers.

Jones said employers shouldn't have to spend money building housing when foreign workers don't use it.

"Many of them don't want to stay there because they want to return to their homes to sleep in their own bed and be with their kids and eat at home," Jones said.

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Anne Marie Knorr, a spokeswoman for the Western Growers Association, a group that represents farmers from Arizona and California, said building housing for workers is a burden for employers and a waste of resources.

"Most people don't have the means to go out and establish mass amounts of housing to house workers who only stay there for a temporary period of time," she said.

Joe Sigg, the government relations director for the Arizona Farm Bureau, said he favors the change but also thinks the federal government should create a visa that would make it easier for temporary farm workers to commute back and forth across the border. Processing and reviewing documents is often time-consuming and leads to long lines at border crossings, he said.

"It would be a way of standardizing the documentation process, and that in itself would speed things up at the border," Sigg said.

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Alyson Zepeda/Cronkite News Service

Workers from Mexico work at a farm in the Yuma area.

H2-A program

  • Launched in 1952 to address an agricultural labor shortage by allowing farmers to hire temporary workers from foreign countries.
  • Requires employers to provide housing for foreign workers.
  • Qualified workers are authorized to stay for a year but may extend their stay for up to three years.
  • About 150,000 foreign workers were admitted to the U.S. in 2009 using H-2A visas.
  • The top three countries of H-2A visa holders are Mexico, South Africa and Peru.
  • Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security