U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta announced plans to
“aggressively confront” visa program fraud and abuse.
In a policy shift, Acosta directed the Department of
Labor (DOL) to “vigorously” enforce all laws within
its jurisdiction over the non-immigrant visa program.
He listed a series of specific actions meant to ramp up
enforcement of visa program abuse.
Acosta directed DOL’s Wage and Hour Division to use
all its tools to enforce labor protections provided by
Targets Visa Program
Fraud And Abuse
down isn’t aimed
at your workers
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his
tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry and its largely immigrant
workforce. Trump said he did not want to create labor
problems for farmers and would look into improving a
program that brings in temporary agricultural workers on
“He assured us we would have plenty of access to
workers,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. During a roundtable
conversation with the President and Secretary Perdue,
farmers and AG representatives brought up labor and
immigration. Some farmers told Trump they often
cannot find Americans willing to do the difficult farm
They said they were worried about stricter immigration
enforcement and described frustrations with the H-2A
visa program, the one legal way to bring in temporary
seasonal agricultural workers. About half of U.S. crop
workers are in the country illegally and more than two-thirds are foreign born, according to the most recent
figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s National
Agriculture Workers’ Survey.
During the roundtable, a dairy farmer from Pennsylvania
described how immigration agents had recently picked up
half a dozen chicken catchers working for a poultry transportation company in his county. The employer tried to
replace them with local hires, but within three hours all
but one had quit.
Trump said he wanted to help and asked Secretary Perdue to look into the issues and come back with recommendations.
While other issues such as trade, infrastructure and
technology were also discussed, participants were more
positive after the meeting about the conversation on
foreign labor “than about anything else we talked about,”
said Bill Northey, a farmer and Iowa’s secretary of agriculture.
An Ohio nursery owner told the President about his
struggles with the H-2A guest worker program, which he
has used for 18 years. He told Trump the program works
in concept, but not in practice. “I brought up the bureaucracy and red tape,” he said. “If the guys show up a week
or two late, it puts crops in jeopardy. You are on pins and
needles all year to make sure you get the workers and do
While use of the program has steadily increased over the
past decade, it still accounts for only about 10 percent
of the estimated 1. 3 million farmworkers in the country,
according to government data. In 2016, the government
granted 134,000 H-2A visas. Employers who import
workers with H-2A visas must provide free transportation
to and from the United States as well as housing and food
for workers once they arrive. Wage minimums are set
by the government and are often higher than farmers are
used to paying.
President Trump recently signed another executive
order titled “Buy American, Hire American,” calling for
changes to a program granting temporary visas for the
tech industry, but not to visas used by farmers and other
Trump also signed two more executive orders focused on
border security that called for arresting more people in
the United States illegally and speeding up deportations.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hit the ground
running on his very first day at work. In his first week
on the job, he held a Farmers Roundtable with President Donald Trump and a national cross section of
farmers and farm leaders, helped head off the withdrawal of the U.S. from the North American Free Trade
Agreement, and announced flexibility for the school
The former Georgia governor was one of the last cabinet positions to be filled, but he says that gave him
the opportunity to find out what senators want him to
accomplish as secretary.
“I heard three major things as I visited with over 75
members of the Senate,” says Perdue. “No. 1 was trade,
No. 2 was trade and No. 3 was trade, but No. 4 and 5
were the labor situation and regulation.”
On trade, Perdue wasted no time creating the undersecretary for trade and foreign affairs position as part of
the USDA reorganization he announced in May, and as
directed in the 2014 farm bill. “I think it needs to be
done and our plans are to have a deputy or an undersecretary for trade for USDA,” he says. He wants this
position to focus solely on opening export markets for
U.S. products. “The Foreign Ag Service ought to get
up every day: How can I sell more? Where can I sell
Roundtable participants said that many farmers have
worried about the effect of the stepped up enforcement on their workforce, but Trump told them his
administration was focused on deporting criminals,
“He has a much better understanding about this than
some of the rhetoric we have seen,” said Steve Troxler,
North Carolina’s agriculture commissioner.
The farmers at the meeting stressed that they need
workers on short-term and permanent basis. They said
there should be a program to help long-time farmworkers without criminal records, but who are in the country
illegally, to become legal residents.
The dairy farmer from Pennsylvania said, “The Admin-
istration has got something started here,” he said of the
meeting with farm leaders. “It’s about time something
the visa program. He also directed the Employment
and Training Administration to propose changes to the
Labor Condition Application that may help the govern-
ment identify fraudulent activity.
The DOL says that it will be actively engaged in
criminal referrals on a regular basis. Sources inside
the DOL said that the previous administration did not
always work actively with the inspector general on
pursuing suspected cases of fraud and abuse of the
“Entities who engage in visa program fraud and abuse
are breaking our laws and are harming American workers, negatively affecting Americans’ ability to provide
for themselves and their families,” Acosta said in a
press release. “We will enforce vigorously those laws,
including heightened use of criminal referrals.”
The DOL’s focus on enforcing the nation’s visa programs is a part of the administration’s larger policy of
putting America first.
In the first successful legal action of its kind, the DOL
obtained a preliminary injunction under the H-2A
visa program from the U.S. District Court for Arizona
against a farm operation for life-threatening housing conditions provided to agricultural workers. In a
second action, a Pennsylvania farm and landscaping
company was penalized for back wages and fines for
violating the Immigration and Nationality Act (denying
employment to a qualified U.S. Worker).
more? Where can I go to trade these products?” says
Perdue additionally announced that an undersecretary
would also be selected for a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area. That department will
focus on domestic issues and oversee the Farm Service
Agency, Risk Management Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Finally, the secretary announced the department’s Rural
Development agencies would be elevated to report
directly to him in recognition of the need to help promote
During the Farmers Roundtable, President Trump also
signed an executive order charging Perdue to chair an
Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The task force will look at all aspects of rural
economy and the issues facing rural America. How do
we generate jobs, job creation, economic activity in rural America? That’s going to be a top to bottom review,
whether its regulations or any other kind of government policy. Secretary Perdue is scheduled to provide a
report in the fall.
Perdue says on the regulatory front, the task force will
focus on common sense and science-based regulations.
He says they will build on the regulatory rollback already
started by Trump and Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Scott Pruitt. “He’s (Pruitt) already demonstrated a real understanding of the barriers that we put out
in our farms and fields all across this country, and we’re
committed to do even more,” Perdue says.
This is a change in approach to regulations that farm groups
are applauding. Daren Coppock, Agriculture Retailers Association CEO says the EPA signaled their stance on regulation with their recent decision to overturn the ban on Lorsban.
“The agency said we’re going be based on science, based on
data and we’re going to be transparent. And frankly that’s
something very welcome news to our members,” he says.
Farm groups are already working on their wish list for
regulatory reform. “We already have a list of about 50 or
60 regulations, hardly any of them at USDA, most of them
at EPA and places like that we really want them to look at
and see if we can make some progress,” says Mary Kay
Thatcher, senior director of Congressional Relations for
the American Farm Bureau Federations.
Perdue also is focused on labor and says Trump wants
immigration reform that benefits agriculture. “What he’s
after is the criminal element of illegal immigration,” he
says. “He understands there are dedicated farm workers
out here who are immigrants who are sometimes milking
cows 365 days a year, not just seasonal workers. And he
wants to find a way we can use the productive capacity of
those people who are here to serve agriculture.”