The H-2A Program

Protections for U.S. Farmworkers Gao ID: PEMD-89-3 October 21, 1988

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.

GAO found that: (1) USDA never measured the precision of the annual hourly wage rate estimates that DOL used to set statewide minimum wages; (2) there may be unacceptably large error margins for at least three regions of the country; (3) the USDA surveys measured a general farm wage that was lower than the average U.S. wage for workers employed in the same crop activities as H-2A workers; and (4) the technical quality of the 15 wage surveys conducted during 1987 varied because of the inconsistent counting of undocumented workers, low response rates, unsystematically compiled employer lists, analytical miscalculations, inadequate survey quality indicators, poor interview schedule quality, and inadequate monitoring. GAO also found that: (1) since DOL determined the prevailing wage only with regard to the most common unit of payment, differing payment units could result in inaccuracies; (2) wage minimums based solely on prevailing wages would not grant relevant protections because the presence of foreign workers would depress the prevailing wages; (3) DOL set an adverse-effect wage rate as a minimum wage to offset wage depression and generally indexed it to a large-scale wage survey; and (4) because the legislative mandate was so broad, DOL could interpret adverse effect in several ways. In addition, GAO found that: (1) DOL practices provided weak protection for U.S. workers; (2) some growers preferred foreign workers because they could recruit more selectively; (3) DOL referred few U.S. workers at the wages and working conditions offered; and (4) government welfare and unemployment benefits were not a critical factor, since the potentially employable among those collecting the benefits constituted only a small part of the needed labor force.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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