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US: Minimum-wage boost for state's guest farmworkers

Staff writer |
Last month, the minimum wage for thousands of workers in Washington jumped by nearly 5 percent to $12.42 an hour. Actually, the new pay raises apply only to a select group of people: foreigners hired as seasonal farmhands.

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The workers, hired under the federal H-2A visa program, the main channel for bringing in temporary agriculture workers legally, must be paid wages intended to protect U.S. citizens and legal residents from being undercut by cheaper imported labor.

The so-called adverse-effect wage rates for 2015, which are set by the U.S. Department of Labor and which went into effect December 19, are significantly higher than minimum wages in most states. The $12.42 rate for Washington is 31 percent above the state's new minimum wage of $9.47. It also exceeds the $11 rate that will kick in for many workers in Seattle April 1.

The H-2A wages, many growers contend, are too high, deterring them from recruiting more workers despite dire shortages of seasonal help. Though reliable data don't exist, experts believe a majority of the nation's 800,000 hired farmworkers are undocumented. In fiscal 2014, 117,000 foreigners were permitted to work with H-2A visas.

Washington was the nation's fourth-largest user of the program, with 9,077 workers certified.

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