- A potato farm in Idaho violated the H-2A visa program when it underpaid guest workers and provided substandard living conditions, the U.S. Department of Labor alleged Feb. 22 following an investigation. The agency further alleged that the employer "threatened to terminate the work contract and send workers back to Mexico if they refused to accept wages at a lower rate than legally required under the H-2A program."
- Jorgensen Management Inc., the potato farm, owes $159,256 in unpaid wages and $25,430 in civil money penalties, DOL said.
- DOL's Wage and Hour Division claimed the farm intentionally violated the H-2A program by failing to provide H-2A workers with at least 75% of the work hours guaranteed in their contracts. It also did not reimburse workers for inbound transportation costs — another requirement of the program. And the farm shortchanged 69 domestic workers hired with the H-2A workers, DOL said.
In its announcement, DOL noted the message it intended to send to Jorgensen's fellow employers. "The outcome of this investigation sends a strong message to other employers that the Wage and Hour Division will not tolerate abuses of the H-2A program and will protect the rights of all people working in the U.S.," said WHD Director Carrie Aguilar in Portland, Oregon.
In fiscal year 2021, WHD investigated 1,000 agricultural employers, with inspections resulting in more than $8.4 million in recovered back wages and $7 million in penalties, the agency noted in its announcement.
H-2A visas enable foreign workers to perform agricultural labor or services on a temporary basis, as authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act. Organizations intending to employ H-2A workers must follow a set of requirements, which includes obligations to demonstrate a specific need for the workers (based on the unavailability of domestic workers), to pay an approved wage, to provide a work contract, to make available at least 75% of the hours guaranteed in the contract and to provide free housing and transportation, among other requirements.
Jorgensen violated several of these provisions, DOL said, and also violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act because it failed to meet housing safety and health standards, to disclose all conditions of employment, to provide wage statements and to pay wages on time.