A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) describes improvements in the H-2A visa issuance process for seasonal agricultural workers and noted additional changes that would assure more timely action to meet the needs of employers. The report (Modernization and Improved Guidance Could Reduce Employer Application Burden, GAO-12-706, Sep 12, 2012) states that 93 percent of visa requests were approved more than 15 days before the workers were needed. But an additional 30 percent took longer than the standard set by the Labor Department to assure ample time for employers to recruit and receive the seasonal workers.

The GAO noted that the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security have made progress in creating electronic communications with employers to speed the process, but noted further progress is still needed. It also recommended that the Labor Department change its current process that requires separate applications for different harvesting periods so that an employer’s application would cover the same workers at different periods during the year.

The progress in expediting approval of visas for seasonal agricultural workers will go far in combating the complaints of the employers that the visa system is too cumbersome. In turn, that will make more obvious the main concern of the employers that using the visa system for legal foreign workers who are protected against exploitation is more costly to them than hiring illegal foreign workers who are not protected.