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Hiring foreign workers requires close attention to detail

"Immigration policy is restrictive even though there is a high demand for labor across the board."

Brandon Davis says farmers typically wouldn’t be facing as many problems bringing in farm laborers from other countries as they are today.

“In economic boom periods, we tend to be expansive in immigration and can bring labor in,” says Davis. “In economically conservative times, we tend to be a little more restrictive because we want Americans to have the jobs.

“This climate that we’re in now is a little unique because for the past 10 to 12 years we’ve been in economic boom times,” he noted. “Yet we have a social scenario where the immigration policy is restrictive even though there is high demand for labor.”

The comments by Davis, a partner in the law firm of Phelps Dunbar LLP in New Orleans, came during a presentation titled “The Dos and Don’t of Ag Labor & Immigration for Farmers and Agribusiness,” at the sixth annual Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference in Memphis, Tenn.

Those restrictions don’t just apply to laborers who might be picking cotton or tilling the soils, he said. Certain categories of high-tech laborers such as foreign investors, physicians and nurses and other skilled workers are affected.

“We need more workers because,” he said. “But the current administration has very restrictive policy: decreased visas, increased employer regulations, and no amnesty, and we’re seeing that playing out at the border now.”

The question then becomes how do attorneys such as Davis help agribusinesses get labor into the U.S “in a scenario in which it is likely most American citizens do not wind up working on a farm,” he noted.

Louisiana’s major crops are sugarcane, soybeans, crawfish and rice. “Nobody that I know who is a U.S. citizen wants to go in and do that type of work,” he said. “So I say the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.”

The first step in bringing in a foreign resident to work on a U.S. farm is to obtain permission from the state and federal governments, he said.

“You have to certify to the federal government that the fact you are bringing in a foreign laborer to work on a farm will not disadvantage U.S. laborers,” he said. “For the attorneys here I want to direct you to Title 20 of the Federal Code of Regulations.

“I would normally say this is nightstand reading, but that’s really not the truth anymore. If you plan to delve into this type of practice, you need to set out a Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon to give this about two hours to have an understanding of the regulatory context.”

For more information on the conference, visit www.NationalAgLawCenter.org.

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