YOU’RE HIRED: A recent Kansas Department of Agriculture webinar brought helpful tips to the state’s ag employers trying to navigate the Farm Worker Modernization Act. The act allows them to hire H-2A temporary foreign workers for their farms and businesses.KDA webinar provided information for agricultural employers filling H-2A positions.
Jennifer M. Latzke | Apr 21, 2021 for the Kansas Farmer, a product of FarmProgress
Kansas agricultural employers need a skilled workforce to bring crops in from the field and care for livestock. A recent webinar hosted by the Kansas Department of Agriculture covered some of the changes to the U.S. Department of Labor’s H-2A program for temporary agricultural employment of foreign workers through the Farm Worker Modernization Act.
From custom harvesters, to dairies and feedlots, agricultural businesses rely on H-2A workers to fill vital roles each year on their operations. The program is meant for temporary foreign ag workers and is only meant for a seasonal or temporary job that employers have demonstrated they cannot fill with domestic workers.
Michael Marsh, of the National Council for Agricultural Employers, lobbies Capitol Hill on agricultural labor issues, and he says foreign workers fill jobs that don’t attract domestic workers. During the pandemic, the council surveyed state workforce agencies in all 50 states and found that of the more than 275,000 openings from March 1 to May 15, 2020, there were just 337 domestic worker applications.
Dixie Cravens, foreign labor certification manager with the Kansas Department of Commerce, and Wendy Inzunz, state monitor advocate for KDC, explains how the commerce department helps ag employers fill positions. The first step, Inzunz says, is to make sure that employers are using the KansasWorks job resource centers to their full extent. It’s a free service to help employers find workers, she says.
“If you’re already using H-2A workers already, you should have an account already,” Inzunz says. But the next step is keeping in touch with staff at the nearby Workforce Center, and to give them as much detailed information about your position, the qualities of a strong candidate, and the job duties so that they can share that information with referrals seeking employment. Their job is to match job seekers with positions — and if they know what you’re looking for, they can help you.
“Share real-life examples of what a day would be like working in the position you are trying to fill,” she says. “Reach out at least a month before you need the employee to start the hiring process. There might be virtual job fairs that you might be able to participate in.”
Just posting a job to the KansasWorks website isn’t enough, she adds. Sometimes the front-line staff doesn’t see that job posting and can’t point it out to job seekers. That’s why it’s critical that you go in and build a relationship with the office staff if you’re hiring, she says.
By the book
Cravens reviews H-2A applications that come into KDC and reviews the job orders before they are placed on the KansasWorks website. Using H-2A to find employees isn’t something that an employer goes into lightly. The process is detailed and expensive, she explains.
For example, Cravens says the program requires employers to provide housing, which includes a working kitchen, dishes and utensils, towels and other linens. Housing must be inspected, whether it’s a temporary travel trailer used by a custom harvest crew or a permanent structure used by a farm employee.
“We make sure those are something you’d want to live in yourself,” Cravens says. From overall construction safety to verifying there are enough beds for each employee, the inspection is very detailed.
Brian Brunt, Kansas State Commercial Driver’s License program coordinator, and Jackie Gray, Western Kansas Region manager, both with the Kansas Department of Revenue, provide advice for employers navigating the CDL program.
Gray says documentation is usually a sticking point for H-2A workers coming to apply for their CDLs for their work.
“We need their passport and their visa, which will show they are employed by a Kansas employer,” she says. H-2A workers also need to bring in:
• Social Security card
• I-94 form
• A letter from the employer stating the business’s name, residence location, and certifying they are working for the business.
“We want to help you all the best we can,” Brunt says. And if employers or employees have any questions, they can call licensing offices, and they should find some assistance.
See the full KDA webinar recording on the department’s website; click on “View webinar.”