The Labor Department finalized a series of changes Friday to ease some application and employment rules for the H-2A visa program.

A final rule released by the department on Friday would among other things mandate electronic filing of job orders and applications, allow farmers to stagger the arrival of H-2A workers over a 120-day period, and permit a group of individual farms with the same need for agricultural services to file a single application to jointly employ H-2A workers. Each employer would be held jointly liable for compliance with H-2A regulations.

The department also said the 722-page rule would protect H-2A workers by enhancing standards for rental housing and public accommodations and expanding the department’s enforcement authority by allowing agents and attorneys to be banned from the program for substantial violations.

“This final rule will streamline and simplify the H-2A application process, strengthen protections for U.S. and foreign workers, and ease unnecessary burdens on employers,” said John Pallasch,the Labor Department's assistant secretary for employment and training. “It is a victory for farmers, agricultural workers, and the American people, who rely on a vibrant agricultural sector to supply food for our families.”

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Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the new rule would “go a long way in ensuring American farmers have access to a stable and skilled workforce, all while removing unnecessary bureaucratic processes.”

The rule is being issued so late in the Trump administration that the incoming Biden administration could easily delay its implementation for further review.

The rule wouldn’t change the way that the regional minimum wage rates, known as the “adverse effect minimum wage rate,” or AEWR, is calculated. A separate rule issued in November would freeze those rates for two years and then base them on a broad national index of labor costs, but a federal judge in California blocked the change.

The H-2A rates have traditionally been based on the Agriculture Department’s annual Farm Labor Survey of wage rates. USDA initially canceled that survey last fall but under court order subsequently reinstated it.

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