[Federal Register Volume 87, Number 196 (Wednesday, October 12, 2022)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 61660-61831]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2022-20506]





Vol. 87

Wednesday,

No. 196

October 12, 2022

Part II





Department of Labor





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Employment and Training Administration





20 CFR Parts 653 and 655





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Wage and Hour Division

29 CFR Part 501





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Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Nonimmigrants in the United 
States; Final Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 87 , No. 196 / Wednesday, October 12, 2022 / 
Rules and Regulations


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DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

Employment and Training Administration

20 CFR Parts 653 and 655

Wage and Hour Division

29 CFR Part 501

[DOL Docket No. ETA-2019-0007]
RIN 1205-AB89


Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Nonimmigrants in the 
United States

AGENCY: Employment and Training Administration and Wage and Hour 
Division, Department of Labor.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: The Department of Labor (Department or DOL) is amending its 
regulations governing the certification of agricultural labor or 
services to be performed by temporary foreign workers in H-2A 
nonimmigrant status (H-2A workers) and enforcement of the contractual 
obligations applicable to employers of such nonimmigrant workers. These 
regulations are consistent with the Secretary of Labor's (Secretary) 
statutory responsibility to certify that there are not sufficient able, 
willing, and qualified workers available to fill the petitioning 
employer's job opportunity, and that the employment of H-2A workers in 
that job opportunity will not adversely affect the wages and working 
conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed. Among 
the issues addressed in this final rule are improving the minimum 
standards and conditions of employment that employers must offer to 
workers; expanding the Department's authority to use enforcement tools, 
such as program debarment for substantial violations of program 
requirements; modernizing the process by which the Department receives 
and processes employers' job orders and applications for temporary 
agricultural labor certifications, including the recruitment of United 
States workers (U.S. workers); and revising the standards and 
procedures for determining the prevailing wage rate. This final rule 
will strengthen protections for workers, modernize and simplify the H-
2A application and temporary labor certification process, and ease 
regulatory burdens on employers.

DATES: This final rule is effective November 14, 2022.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information regarding 20 
CFR part 653, contact Kimberly Vitelli, Administrator, Office of 
Workforce Investment, Employment and Training Administration, 
Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210, 
telephone: (202) 693-3980 (this is not a toll-free number). Individuals 
with hearing or speech impairments may access the telephone numbers 
above via Teletypewriter (TTY)/Telecommunications Device for the Deaf 
(TDD) by calling the toll-free Federal Information Relay Service at 1 
(877) 889-5627.
    For further information regarding 20 CFR part 655, contact Brian 
Pasternak, Administrator, Office of Foreign Labor Certification, 
Employment and Training Administration, Department of Labor, 200 
Constitution Avenue NW, Room N-5311, Washington, DC 20210, telephone: 
(202) 693-8200 (this is not a toll-free number). Individuals with 
hearing or speech impairments may access the telephone numbers above 
via TTY/TDD by calling the toll-free Federal Information Relay Service 
at 1 (877) 889-5627.
    For further information regarding 29 CFR part 501, contact Amy 
DeBisschop, Director of the Division of Regulations, Legislation, and 
Interpretation, Wage and Hour Division, Department of Labor, Room S-
3502, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210, telephone: 
(202) 693-0406 (this is not a toll-free number). Individuals with 
hearing or speech impairments may access the telephone number above via 
TTY/TDD by calling the toll-free Federal Information Relay Service at 1 
(877) 889-5627.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Table of Contents

I. Executive Summary
    A. Purpose of the Regulatory Action
    B. Legal Authority
    C. Current Regulatory Framework
    D. Summary of Major Provisions of This Final Rule
    E. Summary of Costs and Benefits
    F. Severability
II. Acronyms and Abbreviations
III. Background and Public Comments Received on the Notice of 
Proposed Rulemaking
IV. Discussion of General Comments
V. Section-by-Section Summary of This Final Rule, 20 CFR Part 655, 
Subpart B; 20 CFR 653.501(c)(2)(i); and 29 CFR Part 501
    A. Introductory Sections
    1. Section 655.100, Purpose and Scope of Subpart B
    2. Section 655.101, Authority of the Agencies, Offices, and 
Divisions of the Department of Labor; and 29 CFR 501.1, Purpose and 
Scope
    3. Section 655.102, Transition Procedures
    4. Section 655.103, Overview of This Subpart and Definition of 
Terms; 20 CFR 653.501(c)(2)(i) of the Wagner-Peyser Act Regulations; 
and 29 CFR 501.3, Definitions
    B. Pre-Filing Procedures
    1. Section 655.120, Offered Wage Rate
    2. Section 655.121, Job Order Filing Requirements
    3. Section 655.122, Contents of Job Offers
    4. Section 655.123, Optional Pre-Filing Positive Recruitment of 
U.S. Workers
    5. Section 655.124, Withdrawal of a Job Order
    C. Applications for Temporary Employment Certification Filing 
Procedures
    1. Section 655.130, Application Filing Requirements
    2. Section 655.131, Agricultural Association and Joint Employer 
Filing Requirements
    3. Section 655.132, H-2A Labor Contractor Filing Requirements; 
and 29 CFR 501.9, Enforcement of Surety Bond
    4. Section 655.133, Requirements for Agents
    5. Section 655.134, Emergency Situations
    6. Section 655.135, Assurances and Obligations of H-2A Employers
    7. Section 655.136, Withdrawal of an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification and Job Order
    D. Processing of Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification
    1. Section 655.140, Review of Applications
    2. Section 655.141, Notice of Deficiency
    3. Section 655.142, Submission of Modified Applications
    4. Section 655.143, Notice of Acceptance
    5. Section 655.144, Electronic Job Registry
    6. Section 655.145, Amendments to Applications for Temporary 
Labor Certification
    E. Post-Acceptance Requirements
    1. Section 655.150, Interstate Clearance of Job Order
    2. Section 655.153, Contact With Former U.S. Workers
    3. Section 655.154, Additional Positive Recruitment
    4. Section 655.155, Referrals of U.S. Workers
    5. Section 655.156, Recruitment Report
    6. Sections 655.157, Withholding of U.S. Workers Prohibited, and 
655.158, Duration of Positive Recruitment
    F. Labor Certification Determinations
    1. Section 655.161, Criteria for Certification
    2. Section 655.162, Approved Certification
    3. Section 655.164, Denied Certification
    4. Section 655.165, Partial Certification
    5. Section 655.166, Requests for Determinations Based on 
Nonavailability of U.S. Workers
    6. Section 655.167, Document Retention Requirements of H-2A 
Employers
    G. Post-Certification
    1. Section 655.170, Extensions
    2. Section 655.171, Appeals
    3. Section 655.172, Post-Certification Withdrawals
    4. Section 655.173, Setting Meal Charges; Petition for Higher 
Meal Charges
    5. Section 655.174, Public Disclosure
    6. Section 655.175, Post-Certification Amendments

    H. Integrity Measures
    1. Section 655.180, Audit
    2. Section 655.181, Revocation
    3. Section 655.182, Debarment; 29 CFR 501.16, Sanctions and 
Remedies--General; 29 CFR 501.19, Civil Money Penalty Assessment; 29 
CFR 501.20, Debarment and Revocation; 29 CFR 501.21, Failure To 
Cooperate With Investigations; 29 CFR 501.41, Decision and Order of 
Administrative Law Judge; 29 CFR 501.42, Procedures for Initiating 
and Undertaking Review; 29 CFR 501.43, Responsibility of the Office 
of Administrative Law Judges; 29 CFR 501.44, Additional Information, 
if Required; and 29 CFR 501.45, Decision of the Administrative 
Review Board
    I. Labor Certification Process for Temporary Agricultural 
Employment in Range Sheep Herding, Goat Herding, and Production of 
Livestock Operations
    1. Modernizing Recruitment Requirements
    2. Regulatory Revisions Implemented by This Final Rule
    3. Other Comments
    J. Labor Certification Process for Temporary Agricultural 
Employment in Animal Shearing, Commercial Beekeeping, and Custom 
Combining
    1. Section 655.300, Scope and Purpose
    2. Section 655.301, Definition of Terms
    3. Section 655.302, Contents of Job Orders
    4. Section 655.303, Procedures for Filing Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification
    5. Section 655.304, Standards for Mobile Housing
VI. Discussion of Revisions to 29 CFR Part 501
    A. Conforming Changes
    B. Section 501.9, Enforcement of Surety Bond
    C. Section 501.20, Debarment and Revocation
    D. Terminology and Technical Changes
    E. Intervening Rulemakings
VII. Administrative Information
    A. Executive Orders 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review) and 
13563 (Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review)
    B. Regulatory Flexibility Act, Small Business Regulatory 
Enforcement Fairness Act, and Executive Order 13272 (Proper 
Consideration of Small Entities in Agency Rulemaking)
    C. Paperwork Reduction Act
    D. Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995
    E. Executive Order 13132 (Federalism)
    F. Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and Coordination With 
Indian Tribal Governments)

I. Executive Summary

A. Purpose of the Regulatory Action

    This final rule amends the standards and procedures by which the 
Department grants certification of agricultural labor or services to be 
performed by H-2A workers on a seasonal or temporary basis, and 
enforcement of the contractual obligations applicable to employers of 
H-2A workers. The major provisions contained in this final rule will 
strengthen protections for workers, modernize and simplify the H-2A 
application and temporary labor certification process, and ease 
regulatory burdens on employers.
    It is the policy of the Department to maintain robust protections 
for workers and vigorously enforce all laws within its jurisdiction 
governing the administration and enforcement of nonimmigrant visa 
programs. This includes the coordination of the administration and 
enforcement activities of the Employment and Training Administration 
(ETA), Wage and Hour Division (WHD), and the Department's Office of the 
Solicitor in the promotion of the hiring of U.S. workers and the 
safeguarding of wages and working conditions in the United States. In 
addition, these agencies make criminal referrals to the Department's 
Office of Inspector General to combat visa-related fraud schemes.
    The Department is updating its H-2A regulations to ensure that 
employers can address temporary labor needs by employing foreign 
agricultural workers, without undue cost or administrative burden, 
while maintaining the program's strong protections. The changes in this 
final rule will enhance WHD's enforcement capabilities, thereby 
ensuring that responsible employers are not faced with unfair 
competition and allowing for robust enforcement against program fraud 
and abuse that undermine the rights and interests of workers.

B. Legal Authority

    The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the 
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), establishes an ``H-
2A'' nonimmigrant visa classification for a worker ``having a residence 
in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning who is 
coming temporarily to the United States to perform agricultural labor 
or services . . . of a temporary or seasonal nature.'' 8 U.S.C. 
1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a); see also 8 U.S.C. 1184(c)(1) and 1188.\1\ The 
admission of foreign workers under this classification involves a 
multi-step process before several Federal agencies. A prospective H-2A 
employer must first apply to the Secretary for a certification that:
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    \1\ For ease of reference, sections of the INA are referred to 
by their corresponding section in the United States Code.
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     there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, 
and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, 
to perform the labor or services involved in the petition, and the employment of the alien in such labor or services will 
not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the 
United States similarly employed.

8 U.S.C. 1188(a)(1). The INA prohibits the Secretary from issuing this 
certification--known as a ``temporary agricultural labor 
certification''--unless both of the above-referenced conditions are met 
and none of the conditions in 8 U.S.C. 1188(b) apply concerning strikes 
or lock-outs, labor certification program debarments, workers' 
compensation assurances, and positive recruitment.
    The Secretary has delegated the authority to issue temporary 
agricultural labor certifications to the Assistant Secretary for 
Employment and Training, who in turn has delegated that authority to 
ETA's Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC). See Secretary's 
Order 06-2010 (Oct. 20, 2010), 75 FR 66268 (Oct. 27, 2010). In 
addition, the Secretary has delegated to the Department's WHD the 
responsibility under 8 U.S.C. 1188(g)(2) to assure employer compliance 
with the terms and conditions of employment under the H-2A program. See 
Secretary's Order 01-2014 (Dec. 19, 2014), 79 FR 77527 (Dec. 24, 2014).
    Once an employer obtains a temporary agricultural labor 
certification from DOL, it may then file a petition for a nonimmigrant 
worker with the Secretary of Homeland Security. See 8 U.S.C. 
1184(c).\2\ If the employer's petition is approved, the foreign workers 
residing outside the United States whom it seeks to employ must, 
generally, apply for a nonimmigrant H-2A visa at a U.S. embassy or 
consulate abroad, and seek admission to the United States with U.S. 
Customs and Border Protection.\3\ If the employer seeks to employ 
foreign workers already performing work in the United States in H-2A 
status and wishes to petition the workers through an extension of stay 
or change of status, the foreign workers are not required to apply for 
a visa but should they depart from the United States subsequent to 
being granted such H-2A status, must generally obtain an H-2A visa in 
order to return to the country.
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    \2\ Under sec. 1517 of title XV of the Homeland Security Act of 
2002, Public Law 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135, reference to the Attorney 
General's or other Department of Justice Official's responsibilities 
under sec. 1184(c) have been expressly transferred to the Secretary 
of Homeland Security. See 6 U.S.C. 202, 271(b).
    \3\ See generally 8 U.S.C. 1225; 8 CFR part 235.

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C. Current Regulatory Framework

    Since 1987, the Department has operated the H-2A temporary labor 
certification program under regulations promulgated pursuant to the 
INA. The standards and procedures applicable to the certification and 
employment of workers under the H-2A program are found in 20 CFR part 
655, subpart B, and 29 CFR part 501. The majority of the Department's 
current regulations governing the H-2A program were published in 
2010.\4\ In addition, the Department has issued special procedures for 
the employment of foreign workers in the herding and production of 
livestock on the range as well as animal shearing, commercial 
beekeeping, and custom combining occupations.\5\ The Department 
incorporated the provisions for employment of workers in the herding 
and production of livestock on the range into the H-2A regulations, 
with modifications, in 2015.\6\ The provisions governing the employment 
of workers in the herding and production of livestock on the range are 
now codified at 20 CFR 655.200 through 655.235.\7\
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    \4\ Final Rule, Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Aliens 
in the United States, 75 FR 6884 (Feb. 12, 2010) (2010 H-2A Final 
Rule); but see Final Rule, Modernizing Recruitment Requirements for 
the Temporary Employment of H-2A Foreign Workers in the United 
States, 84 FR 49439 (Sept. 20, 2019) (2019 H-2A Recruitment Final 
Rule) (rescinding the requirement that an employer advertise its job 
opportunity in a print newspaper of general circulation in the area 
of intended employment; expanding and enhancing the Department's 
electronic job registry; and leveraging the expertise and existing 
outreach activities of State Workforce Agencies (SWAs) to promote 
agricultural job opportunities); see also Final Rule, Rules 
Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary, 85 FR 30608 (May 
20, 2020) (establishing a system of discretionary secretarial review 
over cases pending before or decided by the Board of Alien Labor 
Certification Appeals [BALCA] and to make technical changes to 
Departmental regulations governing the timing and finality of 
decisions of the Administrative Review Board [ARB] and the BALCA).
    \5\ See Training and Employment Guidance Letter (TEGL) No. 32-
10, Special Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Employers 
Engaged in Sheepherding and Goatherding Occupations under the H-2A 
Program (June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?docn=3042; TEGL No. 15-06, Change 1, Special 
Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Occupations Involved in 
the Open Range Production of Livestock under the H-2A Program (June 
14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?docn=3044; 
TEGL No. 17-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor Certification 
Process for Employers in the Itinerant Animal Shearing Industry 
under the H-2A Program (June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?docn=3041; TEGL No. 33-10, Special 
Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Itinerant Commercial 
Beekeeping Employers in the H-2A Program (June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=3043; TEGL No. 16-06, 
Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Multi-
State Custom Combine Owners/Operators under the H-2A Program (June 
14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=3040.
    \6\ Final Rule, Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A 
Foreign Workers in the Herding or Production of Livestock on the 
Range in the United States, 80 FR 62958 (Oct. 16, 2015) (2015 H-2A 
Herder Final Rule).
    \7\ Consistent with a court-approved settlement agreement in 
Hispanic Affairs Project, et al. v. Scalia et al., No. 15-cv-1562 
(D.D.C.), the Department recently rescinded 20 CFR 655.215(b)(2).
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D. Summary of Major Provisions of This Final Rule

    After careful consideration of the public comments received, this 
final rule adopts much of the regulatory text proposed in the notice of 
proposed rulemaking (NPRM or proposed rule) published in the Federal 
Register on July 26, 2019, with some significant changes.\8\ In 
particular, and as discussed in detail elsewhere in this preamble, this 
final rule adopts the following major changes to the Department's H-2A 
program regulations:
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    \8\ Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Temporary Agricultural 
Employment of H-2A Nonimmigrants in the United States, 84 FR 36168 
(July 26, 2019). In late 2020, the Department published a final rule 
to revise the methodology by which it determines the hourly AEWR for 
non-range agricultural occupations. Final Rule, Adverse Effect Wage 
Rate Methodology for the Temporary Employment of H-2A Nonimmigrants 
in Non-Range Occupations in the United States, 85 FR 70445 (Nov. 5, 
2020) (2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule). The 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule 
addressed only that aspect of the NPRM. This final rule addresses 
the remaining aspects of the NPRM published on July 26, 2019.
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Strengthening Worker Protections and Program Integrity
     Revises the standards and procedures by which employers 
qualifying as H-2A Labor Contractors (H-2ALCs) obtain temporary labor 
certification by permitting the electronic submission of surety bonds, 
adjusting the required surety bond amounts based on changes to adverse 
effect wage rates (AEWR), adopting a common bond form that includes 
standardized bond language, and permitting debarment of H-2ALCs that 
fail to provide adequate surety bonds. These provisions are intended to 
reduce the likelihood of program abuse by ensuring H-2ALCs are better 
able to meet their payroll and other program obligations to workers, 
streamline the process for accepting surety bonds, and strengthen the 
Department's authority to address noncompliant bonds. Clarifies the definitions of ``employer'' and ``joint 
employment,'' the use of these terms in the filing of Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification, and the responsibilities of joint 
employers. Employers that file as joint employers are treated as such 
as a matter of law for purposes of compliance and enforcement. In 
addition, employers that do not file applications but nonetheless 
jointly employ workers under the common law of agency are responsible 
as joint employers. These provisions are intended to enhance worker 
protections by providing greater clarity regarding the responsibilities 
of joint employers, consistent with the statute and the Department's 
current policy and practice. Provides that rental and/or public accommodations secured 
to house workers must meet applicable local, State, or Federal 
standards addressing certain health or safety concerns (e.g., minimum 
square footage per occupant, sanitary food preparation and storage 
areas, laundry and washing facilities), and requires employers to 
submit written documentation that such housing meets applicable 
standards and contains enough bed(s) and room(s) to accommodate all 
workers requested. These provisions are intended to better protect the 
health and safety of workers without imposing an undue burden on 
employers. Enhances the Department's debarment authority by holding 
agents and attorneys, and their successors in interest, accountable for 
their own misconduct independent of the employer's violation(s), and 
clarifies that Applications for Temporary Employment Certification 
filed by debarred entities during the period of debarment will be 
denied without review. These provisions are intended to improve program 
integrity and promote greater compliance with program requirements.
Modernizing the H-2A Application Process and Prevailing Wage Surveys
     Establishes a single point of entry by requiring that 
employers, except in limited circumstances, electronically file 
Applications for Temporary Employment Certification, job orders, and 
all supporting documentation through a centralized electronic system 
maintained by the Department, and permits the use of electronic 
signatures meeting valid signature standards. These provisions are 
intended to reduce costs and burdens for most employers, improve the 
quality of applications, reduce the frequency of delays associated with 
deficient applications, and better facilitate interagency data-sharing. Codifies the use of electronic methods for the OFLC 
Certifying Officer (CO) to send notices and requests to employers, 
circulate approved job orders to appropriate SWAs for

interstate clearance and recruitment of U.S. workers, and issue 
temporary labor certification decisions directly to the Department of 
Homeland Security (DHS). These provisions are intended to modernize 
OFLC's processing of applications to minimize delays, reduce 
administrative costs for the employer and the Department, and expedite 
the delivery of temporary agricultural labor certifications to DHS, 
while maintaining program integrity. Replaces outdated prevailing wage survey guidelines from 
the Department's ETA Handbook 385 (Handbook 385) with modernized 
standards that are more effective in producing prevailing wages for 
distinct crop or agricultural activities, and expands the universe of 
State entities that may conduct prevailing wage surveys, including 
SWAs, other State agencies, State colleges, or State universities. 
These provisions are intended to refine the minimum standards for 
prevailing wage surveys, including providing SWAs with the flexibility 
to leverage other State survey resources to expand the number and scope 
of surveys conducted based on information that is as reliable and 
representative as possible. In addition, while the minimum standards 
may not ensure statistically valid estimates for larger categories of 
workers, they are designed to provide more options for SWAs to make 
decisions about prioritizing precision, accuracy, granularity, or other 
quality factors in the data they use to inform prevailing wages.
Expanding Employer Access and Flexibilities To Use the H-2A Program
     Establishes new standards that permit individual employers 
possessing the same need for agricultural services or labor to file a 
single Application for Temporary Employment Certification and job order 
to jointly employ workers in full-time employment, consistent with the 
statute and the Department's longstanding practice. This provision is 
intended to provide small employers who cannot offer full-time work for 
their H-2A employees with an opportunity to participate in the H-2A 
program and ensure each employer will be held jointly liable for 
compliance with all program requirements. Codifies a unique set of standards and procedures, with 
some revisions, for employers that employ workers engaged in animal 
shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom combining according to a 
planned itinerary across multiple areas of intended employment (AIE) in 
one or more contiguous States. These provisions are intended to provide 
appropriate flexibilities for employers engaged in these unique 
agricultural activities that are substantially similar to the processes 
formerly set out in administrative guidance letters, and greater 
certainty in the handling of these applications by the Department under 
20 CFR part 655, subpart B.

E. Summary of Costs and Benefits

    Executive Order (E.O.) 12866 \9\ and E.O. 13563 \10\ direct 
agencies to assess the costs and benefits of available alternatives 
and, if regulation is necessary, to select regulatory approaches that 
maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, 
public health and safety effects, distributive impacts, and equity). 
E.O. 13563 emphasizes the importance of quantifying both costs and 
benefits, of reducing costs, of harmonizing rules, and of promoting 
flexibility. This rulemaking has been designated a ``significant 
regulatory action'' under section (sec.) 3(f)(1) of E.O. 12866. 
Accordingly, it has been reviewed by the Office of Management and 
Budget (OMB).
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    \9\ E.O. 12866, Regulatory Planning and Review, 58 FR 51735 
(Oct. 4, 1993).
    \10\ E.O. 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, 76 
FR 3821 (Jan. 21, 2011).
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    The Department estimates that this final rule will result in costs, 
cost savings, and qualitative benefits. The cost of this final rule is 
associated with rule familiarization and recordkeeping requirements for 
all H-2A employers, as well as increases in the amount of surety bonds 
required for H-2ALCs. This final rule is expected to have an annualized 
quantifiable cost of $2.75 million and a total 10-year quantifiable 
cost of $19.29 million at a discount rate of seven percent. The cost 
savings of this final rule are the electronic submission of 
applications and application signatures, including the use of 
electronic surety bonds, and the electronic sharing of job orders 
submitted to the OFLC National Processing Center (NPC) with the SWAs. 
This final rule is estimated to have annualized cost savings of $0.16 
million and total 10-year quantifiable cost savings of $1.12 million at 
a discount rate of seven percent.
    The Department estimates that this final rule will result in an 
annualized net quantifiable cost of $2.59 million and a total 10-year 
net cost of $18.17 million, both at a discount rate of seven percent 
and expressed in 2021 dollars. The Department expects that this final 
rule will provide qualitative benefits including: (1) clearer 
application of certain housing-related standards when employers choose 
to meet their H-2A housing obligations by providing rental and/or 
public accommodations, which will bolster worker health and safety 
protections; (2) an improved process of submitting and reviewing H-2A 
applications, which will reduce workforce instability; and (3) the 
adoption of electronic surety bonds and a standardized bond form, which 
will help streamline the H-2A application process and reduce delays. 
The Department believes that the qualitative benefits outweigh the 
quantitative net costs in this rule.

F. Severability

    To the extent that any portion of this final rule is declared 
invalid by a court, the Department intends for all other parts of this 
final rule that can operate in the absence of the specific portion that 
has been invalidated to remain in effect. Thus, even if a court 
decision invalidating a portion of this final rule results in a partial 
reversion to the current regulations or to the statutory language 
itself, the Department intends that the rest of this final rule 
continue to operate, to the extent possible, in tandem with the 
reverted provisions.

II. Acronyms and Abbreviations

AEWR Adverse effect wage rate(s)
AIE Area(s) of intended employment
ALJ Administrative Law Judge
AOWL Agricultural Online Wage Library
ARB Administrative Review Board
ARIMA Autoregressive integrated moving average
BALCA Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals
BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics
CBA Collective bargaining agreement
CFR Code of Federal Regulations
CO Certifying Officer(s)
COVID-19 Novel coronavirus disease
CPI Consumer Price Index
DBA Doing Business As
DC District of Columbia
DHS Department of Homeland Security
DOJ Department of Justice
DOL Department of Labor
DOS Department of State
ECI Employment Cost Index
E.O. Executive Order
E-SIGN Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act
ETA Employment and Training Administration
FEIN Federal Employer Identification Number
FICA Federal Insurance Contributions Act
FLAG Foreign Labor Application Gateway
FLC Farm Labor Contractor
FLS Farm Labor Survey
FLSA Fair Labor Standards Act
FR Federal Register
FTC Federal Trade Commission
FY Fiscal Year(s)
GPEA Government Paperwork Elimination Act
H-2ALC(s) H-2A Labor Contractor(s)

HR Human Resources
iCERT iCERT Visa Portal System
ICR Information Collection Request
IFR Interim final rule
INA Immigration and Nationality Act
IRC Internal Revenue Code
IRCA Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
IRS Internal Revenue Service
MSA Metropolitan Statistical Area(s)
MSPA Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act
NAICS North American Industry Classification System
NOA Notice(s) of Acceptance
NOD Notice(s) of Deficiency
NPC National Processing Center
NPRM Notice of proposed rulemaking
NPWC National Prevailing Wage Center
NW Northwest
OALJ Office of Administrative Law Judges
OEWS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics
OFLC Office of Foreign Labor Certification
OIRA Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
OMB Office of Management and Budget
OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration
PRA Paperwork Reduction Act
Pub. L. Public Law
PWD Prevailing wage determination(s)
QCEW Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages
RFA Regulatory Flexibility Act
RIN Regulation Identifier Number
RV Recreational vehicle
SBA Small Business Administration
Sec. Section of a Public Law
Secretary Secretary of Labor
SOC Standard Occupational Classification
Stat. U.S. Statutes at Large
SWA(s) State Workforce Agency(-ies)
TDD Telecommunications Device for the Deaf
TEGL Training and Employment Guidance Letter
TTY Teletypewriter
UI Unemployment insurance
UMRA Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995
U.S. United States
U.S.C. United States Code
USCIS U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
USDA U.S. Department of Agriculture
WHD Wage and Hour Division

III. Background and Public Comments Received on the Notice of Proposed 
Rulemaking

    On July 26, 2019, the Department published an NPRM requesting 
public comments on proposals intended to modernize and simplify the 
process by which OFLC reviews employers' job orders and applications 
for temporary agricultural labor certifications for use in petitioning 
DHS to employ H-2A workers. See 84 FR 36168. The Department also 
proposed to amend the regulations for enforcement of contractual 
obligations applicable to the employment of H-2A workers and workers in 
corresponding employment administered by WHD, and to amend the Wagner-
Peyser Act regulations administered by ETA to provide consistency with 
revisions to H-2A program regulations governing the temporary 
agricultural labor certification process. Id. The NPRM invited written 
comments from the public on all aspects of the proposed amendments to 
the regulations. A 60-day comment period allowed for the public to 
inspect the proposed rule and provide comments through September 24, 
2019.
    The Department also received requests for an extension of the 
comment period for the NPRM. While the Department appreciated the 
issues raised concerning the public's opportunity to examine the rule 
and comment, the Department decided not to extend the comment period. 
The Department continues to believe that a 60-day comment period was 
sufficient to allow the public to inspect the proposed rule and provide 
comments, and this conclusion is supported by both the volume of 
comments received and by the wide variety of stakeholders that 
submitted comments within the 60-day comment period.
    The Department received a total of 83,532 public comments in docket 
number ETA-2019-007 in response to the NPRM. In addition, the 
Department received 128 comments in response to document 
WHD_FRDOC_0001-0070 prior to the comment submission deadline. These 
comments were incorporated into docket number ETA-2019-007, and each 
comment received a note on regulations.gov indicating that it was 
timely received. The commenters represented a wide range of 
stakeholders from the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. The 
Department received comments from a geographically diverse cross-
section of stakeholders within the agricultural sector, including 
farmworkers, workers' rights advocacy organizations, farm owners, trade 
associations for agricultural products and services, not-for-profit 
organizations representing agricultural issues, and other organizations 
with an interest in farming, ranching, and other agricultural 
activities. Public sector commenters included Federal elected 
officials, State officials, and agencies representing 14 State 
governments. Private sector commenters included business owners, 
recruiting companies, and law firms. Other commenters included 
immigration advocacy groups, public policy organizations, and trade 
associations interested in immigration-related issues. The vast 
majority of comments specifically addressed proposals and issues 
contained in the NPRM. The Department recognizes and appreciates the 
value of comments, ideas, and suggestions from all those who commented 
on the proposal, and this final rule was developed after review and 
consideration of all public comments timely received in response to the 
NPRM.11 12
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    \11\ As explained elsewhere in this rule, the Department 
separately published a final rule--the 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule--
that addressed the proposal and public comments concerning the AEWR 
methodology and was limited to only that aspect of the NPRM. This 
final rule addresses the remaining aspects of the NPRM. Previously, 
on January 15, 2021, the Department announced and posted on OFLC's 
website an unpublished final rule on these remaining aspects of the 
NPRM, explaining that the rule was pending publication in the 
Federal Register with a 30-day delayed effective date. See 
Announcements, U.S. Department of Labor Withdraws Forthcoming H-2A 
Temporary Agricultural Program Rule for Review (Jan. 20, 2021), 
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/foreign-labor/news. On January 20, 
2021, however, the Department withdrew this document from the Office 
of the Federal Register, prior to the document being made available 
for public inspection, for the purpose of reviewing issues of law, 
fact, and policy raised by the rule. Therefore, the unpublished 
draft rule (hereinafter referenced as ``the January 2021 draft final 
rule'') never took effect. 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1), 553; cf. Humane 
Society v. U.S. Dep't of Ag., No. 20-5291,--F.4th--, 2022 WL 
2898893, at *8 (D.C. Cir. 2022) (holding that ``agencies may repeal 
a rule made available for public inspection in the Office of the 
Federal Register only after complying with the [Administrative 
Procedure Act's] procedural requirements''). The Federal Register 
and the Code of Federal Regulations remain the official sources for 
regulatory information published by the Department. Id. Any 
statements in the January 2021 draft final rule do not represent the 
Department's formal policy. Moreover, the January 2021 draft final 
rule and any statements contained therein do not, and may not be 
relied upon to, create or confer any right or benefit, substantive 
or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by any individual or 
other party.
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IV. Discussion of General Comments

    Following careful consideration of the public comments received, 
the Department made a number of modifications to the NPRM's proposed 
regulatory text. Section V of this preamble sets out the Department's 
interpretation and rationale for the amendments adopted to 20 CFR part 
655, subpart B, 20 CFR 653.501(c)(2)(i), and 29 CFR part 501, section 
by section. Before setting out the detailed section-by-section analysis 
below, however, the Department will first acknowledge and respond to 
general comments that did not fit readily into this organizational 
scheme.
    Of the total public comments received, 82,893 comments were 
associated with form letters or letter writing campaigns. One not-for-
profit organization submitted the names of 8,602 community members 
expressing general concerns about worker wages,

worker safety, and enforcement of immigration laws. A not-for-profit 
foundation and labor union letter writing campaign resulted in the 
submission of more than 74,000 form letters and postcards from 
individual farmworkers expressing general concerns over issues such as 
the growth of the H-2A program, worker wages, costs to workers, working 
conditions, housing conditions, job opportunities for U.S. workers, and 
enforcement and oversight of program protections. Additional letter 
writing campaigns were organized by agricultural associations, trade 
associations, local groups of farmers, and private individuals. The 
Department recognizes and appreciates the public's interest in this 
regulatory action. Where these letters discussed substantive changes 
within the scope of the rule, the Department has considered and 
addressed these issues, in detail, in the section-by-section analysis 
of this preamble.
    Many of the comments received expressed general support for or 
opposition to the proposed rule, without discussing specific provisions 
of the NPRM. The Department received comments from individual business 
owners, farmers, and trade associations that expressed general support 
for taking action to change the H-2A program, including efforts to 
streamline the electronic document filing system, modernizing and 
improving the efficiency of the program, making the program more 
flexible and responsive to farmer needs, and creating an environment 
that fosters a more stable workforce without harming U.S. workers. 
Other commenters stressed the importance of protecting and improving 
the American farming industry through the proposed regulations. Another 
commenter mentioned the growth of the H-2A program in their State as 
evidence that the program plays a vital role in the agricultural 
sector. The Department values and appreciates these commenters' support 
for the proposed rule, as well as their unique and informed 
perspectives on the program's strengths and proposed points of 
improvement.
    In addition to comments expressing general support for the rule, 
the Department received several comments supporting other comments that 
were submitted in response to the NPRM. Most of these comments were 
from individual farmers and ranchers expressing support for a comment 
submitted by an agricultural association or trade association. The 
Department acknowledges the time and effort undertaken by these 
commenters to voice their opinions on this rulemaking and lend their 
support for the opinions of others. Where these comments supported 
substantive changes within the scope of the rule, the Department has 
considered and addressed these issues, in detail, in the section-by-
section analysis of this preamble.
    The Department also received several comments in general opposition 
to the changes proposed in the NPRM, including from private citizens, 
farmworkers, and workers' rights advocacy organizations. These comments 
included concerns that changes to the H-2A program could 
disproportionately harm small farms. In accordance with the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act (RFA), an analysis on the impact on small farms was 
performed, and the results were considered in formulating this final 
rule. Additional commenters expressed the view that stronger 
protections and accountability for worker safety and living conditions 
are needed, asserting that the changes proposed in the NPRM would serve 
to weaken labor standards and increase instances of abuse within the 
immigration system. Some commenters feared that the proposed changes 
would disproportionately harm marginalized communities, including 
immigrants, individuals with disabilities, and people of color. One 
commenter opposed the changes proposed in the NPRM out of a general 
concern that such changes, once implemented, would encourage employers 
to deny jobs to U.S. farmworkers in order to hire foreign workers for 
less pay. Still other commenters stated that the changes proposed in 
the NPRM would make working and living conditions worse for farmworkers 
both within the H-2A program as well as farmworkers who are already 
lawfully present in the United States and employed in that capacity. 
These commenters underscored the importance of increasing protections 
for both U.S. workers' and H-2A workers' living and working conditions. 
Some commenters worried that the proposed changes would increase costs 
to workers, decrease their wages, or both. In contrast, one commenter 
expressed concern about the proposal increasing costs for employers 
through higher wages and labor standards for workers. Other commenters 
expressed general concerns about how the changes would impact food 
safety and the appeals process. A few commenters criticized the 
proposed rule for not including provisions to address recruitment fees 
and sectors in agriculture that have year-round needs for labor.
    The Department values and appreciates the participation and input 
from these commenters and the perspectives they have to offer. The 
mission of DOL is to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the 
wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve 
working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; 
and assure work-related benefits and protection of workers' rights. 
Under this charge, the Department continues to be as diligent as 
possible in safeguarding worker rights, promoting the welfare of all 
workers, and investigating and preventing abuse within the U.S. 
agricultural economy, and it shares these commenters' concerns for the 
protection of all farmworkers in the United States. Where these 
comments supported substantive changes within the scope of the rule, 
the Department has considered and addressed these issues, in detail, in 
the section-by-section analysis of this preamble.

V. Section-by-Section Summary of This Final Rule, 20 CFR Part 655, 
Subpart B; 20 CFR 653.501(c)(2)(i); and 29 CFR Part 501

    This section of the preamble provides the Department's responses to 
public comments received on the NPRM and rationale for the amendments 
adopted to 20 CFR part 655, subpart B, 20 CFR 653.501(c)(2)(i), and 29 
CFR part 501, section by section, and generally follows the outline of 
the regulations. Within each section of the preamble, the Department 
has noted and responded to those public comments that are addressed to 
that particular section of this final rule. If a proposed change is not 
addressed in the discussion below, it is because the public comments 
did not substantively address that specific provision and no changes 
have been made to the proposed regulatory text. The Department received 
some comments on the NPRM that were outside the scope of the proposed 
regulations, and the Department offers no substantive response to such 
comments. The Department also has made some nonsubstantive changes to 
the regulatory text to correct grammatical and typographical errors, in 
order to improve readability and conform the document stylistically, 
that generally are not discussed below.

A. Introductory Sections

1. Section 655.100, Purpose and Scope of Subpart B
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to clarify the 
purpose of the H-2A program regulations in paragraph (a) and the scope 
of those regulations in paragraph

(b). Proposed paragraph (a) reflected the purpose of the final rule as 
realizing the Department's statutory authority to establish a process 
through which it will make factual determinations regarding the 
issuance of a temporary agricultural labor certification and certify 
its determination to DHS. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(a). Proposed paragraph (b) 
described the scope of the Department's role in receiving, reviewing, 
and adjudicating Applications for Temporary Employment Certification, 
including establishing standards and obligations with respect to the 
terms and conditions of the temporary agricultural labor certification 
with which H-2A employers must comply, and the rights and obligations 
of H-2A workers and workers in corresponding employment. The Department 
received some comments on this provision, but has not made any 
substantive changes to the regulatory text in response to these 
comments. Therefore, as discussed below, this provision remains 
unchanged from the NPRM except for minor technical changes.
    Although many commenters generally applauded the Department's 
efforts to amend the H-2A regulations through this rulemaking activity, 
others stated the proposed regulations were unsatisfactory in 
addressing a wide array of immigration and workforce issues impacting 
the United States. Some called for an ``overhaul'' of the immigration 
system as it relates to agricultural labor through this rule or through 
a ``guest'' worker program, and some suggested creation of a system 
where the agricultural workforce would have a pathway to citizenship. 
Others stated that the changes proposed in this rulemaking would weaken 
workers' wages, protections, and U.S. worker recruitment obligations, 
and would not incentivize farmers' use of E-Verify administered by DHS 
and the Social Security Administration. However, no commenters objected 
to the Department's proposed language under Sec.  655.100 stating the 
purpose and scope of its H-2A program regulations based on the 
Department's statutory authority under the INA.
    To the extent commenters urged action beyond the proposed changes 
that the Department presented for public comment in the NPRM, their 
comments are outside the scope of this rulemaking. To the extent these 
commenters commented on the Department's proposals in specific 
provisions of the NPRM (e.g., wage requirements or recruitment 
obligations), the Department has addressed their specific comments in 
the preamble discussion of those particular provisions. Generalized 
comments relating to this final rule are addressed in section IV, 
Discussion of General Comments. In the absence of objection to the 
Department's proposed revisions to this regulatory language describing 
the purpose and scope of its H-2A program regulations, the Department 
has adopted these provisions as proposed, with minor changes in Sec.  
655.100. In this final rule, the Department reversed the order of the 
words ``purpose'' and ``scope'' in the section heading in order to 
reflect the sequence of topics in paragraphs (a) and (b). The 
Department also revised ``temporary agricultural labor or services'' to 
now read ``agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal 
nature'' and included the word ``temporary'' in front of ``foreign 
workers'' to better reflect the determinations made in the Department's 
temporary agricultural labor certification.
2. Section 655.101, Authority of the Agencies, Offices, and Divisions 
of the Department of Labor; and 29 CFR 501.1, Purpose and Scope
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section related to the 
delegated authorities of ETA and WHD and the division of 
responsibilities between the agencies in administering the H-2A 
program. In addition to other statutory responsibilities required by 8 
U.S.C. 1188, proposed paragraph (a) addressed ETA's authority to carry 
out the Secretary's responsibility to issue temporary agricultural 
labor certifications through OFLC, while proposed paragraph (b) 
addressed WHD's authority to carry out the Secretary's authority to 
investigate and enforce the terms and conditions of H-2A temporary 
agricultural labor certifications under 8 U.S.C. 1188, 29 CFR part 501, 
and 20 CFR part 655, subpart B (``this subpart'') (collectively, ``the 
H-2A program''). Proposed paragraph (c) reminded program users of ETA 
and WHD's concurrent authority to impose a debarment remedy, when 
appropriate, under ETA regulations at 20 CFR 655.182 or under WHD 
regulations at 29 CFR 501.20. The Department received a few comments on 
this provision, none of which necessitated substantive changes to the 
regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed below, this provision remains 
unchanged from the NPRM.
    Some commenters raised concerns about potential delays or confusion 
related to the manner in which ETA and WHD coordinate enforcement and 
share authority, as well as the level of expertise of enforcement 
agencies to which ETA and WHD may make referrals. One commenter 
expressed concern about the frequency of WHD investigations of H-2A 
employers, as compared to non-H-2A employers, and objected to what it 
perceived as an expansion of WHD's enforcement authority. Another 
commenter suggested that the complementary regulation at 29 CFR 
501.1(b) be revised to explicitly reference OFLC's authority to carry 
out responsibilities under 20 CFR part 655, subpart B, in addition to 
its authority under the statute. As the regulations are promulgated 
pursuant to OFLC's statutory authority, the Department considers the 
proposed regulations to adequately describe the scope of OFLC's 
authority. Further, by adding paragraph (b) to 20 CFR 655.101, the 
Department clarifies the role of WHD with regard to 20 CFR part 655, 
subpart B, within that subpart rather than solely within the 
complementary regulation at 29 CFR 501.1(c) and brings consistency to 
20 CFR 655.101 and 29 CFR 501.1; both now address ETA's and WHD's 
roles. To the extent commenters raised concerns about the manner in 
which ETA and WHD coordinate enforcement and shared authority, in 
practice, those specific comments are addressed in connection with the 
relevant regulatory provision (e.g., 20 CFR 655.182(g)). As no 
commenter raised issues with the proposed revisions to the description 
of the authority of the Department's agencies, offices, and divisions 
under 20 CFR 655.101 and 29 CFR 501.1 that necessitate changes, the 
Department is adopting them in this final rule without change.
3. Section 655.102, Transition Procedures
a. Rescinding the Provision Allowing for the Creation of Special 
Procedures
    As stated in the NPRM, the Department's H-2A regulations have, 
since their creation, provided authority under 20 CFR 655.102 to 
``establish, continue, revise, or revoke special procedures for 
processing certain H-2A applications,'' and the Department has 
exercised a limited degree of flexibility in determining when specific 
variations from the normal labor certification processes were necessary 
to permit the temporary employment of foreign workers in specific 
industries or occupations. However, the Department proposed to rescind 
the special procedures provision in its H-2A regulations in light of 
the decision in Mendoza v. Perez, 754 F.3d 1002, 1022 (D.C. Cir. 2014), 
which found that the

Department's determination to establish special procedures for sheep, 
goat, and cattle herding under Sec.  655.102 was subject to the 
Administrative Procedure Act, possessed all the hallmarks of a 
legislative rule, and could not be issued through sub-regulatory 
guidance. The Department underwent notice-and-comment rulemaking to 
convert the sub-regulatory guidance for sheep and goat herding and 
production of livestock on the range into formal regulations; those 
provisions appear in the Department's H-2A regulations at 20 CFR 
655.200 through 655.235. 2015 H-2A Herder Final Rule, 80 FR 62958.\13\ 
Accordingly, the Department proposed in the NPRM new regulatory 
provisions under Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304 to incorporate the 
remaining special procedures covering the specific occupations of 
animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom combining into the 
H-2A regulatory framework, effectively rescinding the TEGLs covering 
those occupations. The Department received some comments on the 
Department's proposal to rescind existing Sec.  655.102, but as 
discussed below, none warranted changes to the Department's proposed 
rescission. Therefore, the rescission of this provision remains 
unchanged from the NPRM.
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    \13\ The Department recently rescinded Sec.  655.215(b)(2) in a 
separate rulemaking. Final Rule, Adjudication of Temporary and 
Seasonal Need for Herding and Production of Livestock on the Range 
Applications Under the H-2A Program, 86 FR 71373 (Dec. 16, 2021) 
(2021 H-2A Herder Final Rule).
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    Some commenters generally supported the proposal to engage in 
rulemaking (i.e., through the NPRM and this final rule) to incorporate 
the procedures and standards from the TEGLs for itinerant animal 
shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom combining into the H-2A 
regulations, with some remarking that it provided an opportunity to 
comment on specific aspects of occupational variances. The Department 
addresses these specific comments in the preamble sections below that 
discuss Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304. Several other commenters 
expressed support for this proposal and cited general agreement with 
the conclusion that such procedures are substantive and require formal 
notice-and-comment rulemaking.
    One trade association stated that it ``takes no position'' on the 
proposed rule's rescission of the special procedures provision, but 
recommended the procedures and standards set forth in TEGLs should 
undergo ``appropriate due process'' before attaining the status of 
regulations. Although other trade associations and individual 
commenters were in favor of eliminating informal special procedures, 
they recommended the Department retain the ability to develop formal 
special procedures when circumstances arise in the future. These 
commenters noted that U.S. agriculture will continue to evolve, and the 
Department must have the appropriate tools to implement immediate 
changes to assist farmers while protecting workers.
    The Department understands the concerns expressed by a few 
commenters that consideration of special variances for specific 
industries or occupations, other than those addressed in this final 
rule at Sec. Sec.  655.200 through 655.235 and Sec. Sec.  655.300 
through 655.304, may be appropriate at some point in the future. 
However, in light of the court's decision in Mendoza and the similarity 
between the special procedures at issue in that case and the current H-
2A special procedure TEGLs, the Department has determined that it 
should engage in formal notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures (i.e., 
through the NPRM and this final rule) to incorporate into the 
regulations its current H-2A special procedures. Rescission of the 
broad authority in Sec.  655.102 to establish special procedures does 
not preclude the Department from engaging in future notice-and-comment 
rulemaking or issuing guidance; rather, it reassures the public that 
the Department will engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking to 
establish variances in the future. Accordingly, the Department is 
adopting its proposal to rescind from the H-2A regulations the explicit 
provision permitting the Department to establish special procedures for 
processing certain Applications for Temporary Employment Certification 
under Sec.  655.102.
b. Transition Procedures for Implementing Changes Created by This Final 
Rule
    As stated in the NPRM, the Department proposed to repurpose Sec.  
655.102 to clarify which set of regulations--the 2010 H-2A Final Rule 
\14\ or this final rule--an employer must satisfy for each Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification that it has already submitted or 
that it is preparing to submit when this final rule becomes effective. 
The Department proposed to rename Sec.  655.102 as ``Transition 
procedures,'' and add regulatory language to support an orderly and 
seamless transition between the rules.
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    \14\ The Department's reference to ``the 2010 H-2A Final Rule'' 
herein includes the regulatory text adopted through that rulemaking, 
75 FR 6884, and in other minor revisions that took effect prior to 
the effective date of this final rule. 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final 
Rule, 84 FR 49439 (rescinding the requirement that an employer 
advertise its job opportunity in a print newspaper of general 
circulation in the area of intended employment; expanding and 
enhancing the Department's electronic job registry; and leveraging 
the expertise and existing outreach activities of SWAs to promote 
agricultural job opportunities); see also Final Rule, Rules 
Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary, 85 FR 30608 
(establishing a system of discretionary secretarial review over 
cases pending before or decided by the BALCA and to make technical 
changes to Departmental regulations governing the timing and 
finality of decisions of the ARB and the BALCA); 2021 H-2A Herder 
Final Rule, 86 FR 71373 (amending the regulations regarding the 
adjudication of temporary need for employers seeking to employ 
nonimmigrant workers in job opportunities covering the herding or 
production of livestock on the range).
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    Paragraph (a) proposed that an Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification submitted to the OFLC NPC before the effective date of 
the final rule would be processed under the regulations in effect when 
it was submitted (i.e., the 2010 H-2A Final Rule). However, an 
employer's engagement with H-2A program requirements begins in advance 
of its submission of the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification to the NPC, with its submission of a job order to the SWA 
for review and clearance. In order to provide similar regulatory 
continuity for H-2A program job orders, paragraphs (b) and (c) proposed 
a procedure for determining which set of regulations would apply to an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification submitted to the NPC 
on or after the effective date of the final rule.
    As a result, any Application for Temporary Employment Certification 
with a first date of need no later than 90 days after the effective 
date of this final rule would be processed under the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule. All other Applications for Temporary Employment Certification 
submitted on or after the effective date of this final rule would be 
processed under this final rule. The Department received some comments 
on this provision, none of which necessitated substantive changes to 
the regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed below, this provision 
remains unchanged from the NPRM.
    The majority of commenters that addressed transition procedures, 
including trade associations, an employer, and a SWA, generally 
supported the proposal. However, they expressed concern that the 
transition period might occur during a busy season or across calendar 
years, depending on the timing of the final rule's publication.

These commenters urged the Department to include sufficient time in the 
transition period for employers to become familiar with new 
requirements and for the Department and SWA to develop and implement 
processes associated with the changes in the final rule, ideally 
outside of busy filing periods (e.g., September, October, and 
November). The Department considered these interests and concluded that 
the transition procedures adopted in this final rule ensure that all 
job orders and Applications for Temporary Employment Certification 
submitted to the SWA and/or NPC before the effective date of this final 
rule will continue to be governed by the 2010 H-2A Final Rule. Not only 
will this approach ensure that the rule change does not complicate or 
disrupt an employer's application process mid-stream, but it will 
provide an appropriate period after publication of this final rule 
during which the Department, SWAs, and employers can adjust to the new 
rule before an employer submits its first job order for processing 
under this final rule (i.e., with a first date of need more than 90 
days after the effective date of this final rule).
    Three commenters remarked on the length of the transition period 
proposed. Two trade associations objected to what they viewed as a 
delay of the actual effective date of the final rule. They remarked 
that the final rule would not be fully in effect on the 30th day after 
publication. In contrast, a SWA urged the Department to consider a 
longer transition period, such as 180 days after the final rule's 
publication date, stating that both SWAs and employers need more than 
90 days to adjust to the substantive changes being proposed, e.g., 
survey methodologies and staggered entry.\15\
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    \15\ The Department decided not to adopt several major changes 
proposed in the NPRM (e.g., staggered entry), as discussed in 
relevant preamble sections, which mitigates the SWA's concern to 
some degree. In addition, as explained in the preamble discussing 
Sec.  655.120, the Department anticipates the modernized prevailing 
wage determination (PWD) survey requirements will reduce the burden 
on SWAs.
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    The Department appreciates both the SWA's suggestion for more time 
as well as other commenters' concerns about prompt implementation of 
the new rule. The transition period implemented in this final rule 
balances these concerns. It allows the Department to implement 
necessary changes to program operations, application forms, and 
technology systems, and to provide training and technical assistance to 
the NPC, SWAs, employers, and other stakeholders in order to 
familiarize them with changes required by this rule. However, the 
transition period also balances the preparation required to properly 
implement the new rule with the importance of promptly implementing the 
modernized regulations. It requires employers to prepare job orders in 
compliance with the new regulations, and it requires the NPC and SWA to 
be prepared to receive those job orders, 46 days after publication of 
this final rule. Further, using employers' first date of need after 
this final rule's effective date, rather than a job order or 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification submission date, 
better ensures that workers who perform labor or services during the 
same season will be covered by the same set of regulations.
4. Section 655.103, Overview of This Subpart and Definition of Terms; 
20 CFR 653.501(c)(2)(i) of the Wagner-Peyser Act Regulations; and 29 
CFR 501.3, Definitions
a. AEWR
    The NPRM proposed conforming changes to the definition of AEWR to 
be consistent with the NPRM's proposal to adjust the methodology used 
to establish AEWR in the H-2A program. Subsequently, the Department 
issued the 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule (85 FR 70445), which revised the 
AEWR methodology for non-range agricultural occupations and included a 
revised definition of AEWR. On December 23, 2020, in United Farm 
Workers v. Dep't of Labor, No. 20-cv-01690 (E.D. Cal. filed Nov. 30, 
2020), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California 
issued an order preliminarily enjoining the Department from further 
implementing the 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule.\16\ On April 4, 2022, after 
the parties submitted summary judgment briefing, the court vacated the 
2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule and remanded the rule to the agency for 
further rulemaking consistent with the court's order.\17\ In this final 
rule, the Department is implementing the court's vacatur of the 2020 H-
2A AEWR Final Rule by removing from the CFR the regulatory text that 
the Department promulgated through that rulemaking at Sec.  655.103(b) 
(the definition of AEWR), thereby restoring the regulatory text to 
appear as it did before the effective date of the 2020 H-2A AEWR Final 
Rule.
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    \16\ Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary 
Injunction, United Farm Workers v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, No. 20-cv-
1690 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 23, 2020), ECF No. 37. The court's order was 
issued two days after the effective date of the 2020 H-2A AEWR Final 
Rule.
    \17\ Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, 
United Farm Workers v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, No. 20-cv-1690 (E.D. 
Cal. Apr. 4, 2022), ECF No. 102; Judgment, United Farm Workers v. 
U.S. Dep't of Labor, No. 20-cv-1690 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 4, 2022), ECF 
No. 103.
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    The Department has good cause to bypass any otherwise applicable 
requirements of notice and comment and a delayed effective date for 
this portion of the rule because they are unnecessary and would be 
contrary to the public interest. See 5 U.S.C. 533(b)(B), (d). First, 
the changes made here carry out the ministerial task of effectuating 
the court's vacatur order and restores the regulatory text to the 
operative regulatory text in place prior to the publication of the now-
vacated rule (the definition of AEWR in effect under the 2010 H-2A 
Final Rule). Since the court's vacatur order, no other party has sought 
to appeal the court's order or otherwise block it from taking effect. 
The Department has therefore concluded that the notice and delayed 
effective date requirements are unnecessary.
    Second, the Department has concluded that taking comment on this 
change would be contrary to the public interest because it could lead 
to confusion, particularly among the regulated public, as to the 
applicable definition of the AEWR and the AEWR methodology. This is 
especially true in light of the Department's December 1, 2021, NPRM 
proposing revisions to the reinstated 2010 AEWR methodology. Continuing 
to include the vacated methodology in the CFR while simultaneously 
proposing to amend the 2010 AEWR methodology in the separate rulemaking 
could be unnecessarily confusing to the regulated community. This 
change eliminates any possible confusion over the current AEWR 
methodology and, more importantly, any confusion over what methodology 
the Department has proposed to change in its current AEWR 
rulemaking.\18\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \18\ As noted below, the comment period for the 2021 H-2A AEWR 
NPRM closed on January 31, 2022, and the Department will address 
comments received in response to that proposal in that separate 
rulemaking.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department has concluded that each of these reasons--that 
notice and comment and a delayed effective date are unnecessary, 
impracticable, and contrary to the public interest--independently 
provides good cause to bypass any otherwise applicable requirements of 
notice and comment and a delayed effective date.
b. Area of Intended Employment and Place of Employment
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to the definition of AIE by

replacing the terms ``place of the job opportunity'' and ``worksite'' 
with a newly defined term ``place(s) of employment.'' The Department 
received some comments on this provision, none of which necessitated 
substantive changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed 
below, these definitions remain unchanged from the NPRM with one minor 
revision.
    As explained in the NPRM, the CO will continue using the definition 
of AIE to assess whether each place of employment--defined as a 
worksite or physical location where work under the job order actually 
is performed by the H-2A workers and workers in corresponding 
employment--is within normal commuting distance from the first place of 
employment listed on the job order as a work location or, if 
designated, the centralized ``pick-up'' point (e.g., worker housing) to 
every other place of employment identified in the application and job 
order. After considering comments, as discussed below, the Department 
adopts the proposed definitions of AIE and place of employment with one 
minor change, to use the term ``place of employment'' in the singular 
in the definition of AIE.
    Some commenters suggested the Department make substantive revisions 
to the proposed definition of ``place of employment,'' given how it is 
applied in the proposed definition of AIE at 20 CFR 655.103(b), and the 
explicit limitation of an Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification to one AIE that the Department proposed to incorporate at 
Sec.  655.130(e). Some commenters asserted that travel time from one 
point on a farm to another (e.g., from one field to another 
noncontiguous field, or from a field to a packing facility) and/or 
incidental travel off the farm to places outside of the AIE should not 
be considered in the Department's AIE evaluation. Several commenters, 
including a trade association, agent, and employers, used job 
opportunities involving trucking duties (e.g., delivering an employer's 
crops to storage or market) as examples of their concerns. These 
commenters objected to listing all of a trucker's delivery and pick-up 
locations on the Application for Temporary Employment Certification as 
worksites, which the CO would analyze under the definition of AIE at 
Sec.  655.103(b) and subject to the geographic limitation at Sec.  
655.130(e). Several trade associations, agents, and employers commented 
that the Department should adopt the H-1B definition of place of 
employment at Sec.  655.715, asserting that the Board of Alien Labor 
Certification Appeals (BALCA) has done so in some appeal decisions. One 
commenter stated that adopting the H-1B definition would ensure that 
certain locations where work is performed for short durations are 
excluded from consideration in analysis of the AIE. An employer 
supported this approach as flexible and efficient, while other 
commenters stated it would provide clarity and certainty to the AIE 
evaluation. An agent acknowledged that the H-1B definition might be 
``less-than-ideal for the H-2A program for other reasons'' and proposed 
a slightly modified version of the H-1B definition.
    The Department declines to adopt the H-1B definition of ``place of 
employment'' for the H-2A program because doing so would be a major 
change that commenters and stakeholders generally could not have 
anticipated as an outcome of the rulemaking, thus warranting additional 
public notice and opportunity for comment. Additionally, the H-1B 
definition of ``place of employment'' is tailored to the specialty 
occupations eligible for the H-1B program, and this definition is not 
easily retrofitted or modified to apply to agricultural occupations 
eligible for the H-2A program.\19\ Finally, such a change is not 
necessary to address commenters' concerns.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \19\ For example, the H-1B regulations provide the following 
examples of non-worksites (i.e., locations that do not constitute a 
place of employment) for an H-1B worker: ``[a] computer engineer 
sent to customer locations to `troubleshoot' complaints regarding 
software malfunctions; a sales representative making calls on 
prospective customers or established customers within a `home 
office' sales territory; a manager monitoring the performance of 
out-stationed employees; an auditor providing advice or conducting 
reviews at customer facilities; a physical therapist providing 
services to patients in their homes within an area of employment; an 
individual making a court appearance; an individual lunching with a 
customer representative at a restaurant; or an individual conducting 
research at a library.'' See Sec.  655.715. These examples have 
limited parallels within the agricultural economy.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department's proposed definition of AIE considers the normal 
commuting distance to the place of employment where the workday begins, 
not the geographic scope of a worker's route after the workday begins. 
Under the proposed definition of ``place of employment,'' a truck 
driver's delivery locations, for example, are places of employment, as 
they are worksites or other physical locations at which the truck 
driver performs work under the job order. However, those delivery 
locations are not considered in the AIE analysis of normal commute to 
the place of employment because the workday for the job opportunity 
begins before a worker travels to those locations. The geographic scope 
limitation on such places of employment (i.e., after the workday 
begins) are addressed under Sec.  655.130(e), which, as revised, 
accommodates work at ``places of employment outside of a single [AIE] 
only as is necessary to perform the duties specified in the Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification, and provided that the worker 
can reasonably return to the worker's residence or the employer-
provided housing within the same workday.''
    While not assessed as part of an AIE review, an employer must 
identify on the Application for Temporary Employment Certification and 
job order all places of employment, including those after the workday 
begins, to allow both for the Department to review, and U.S. workers to 
be apprised of, the material terms and conditions of the job 
opportunity. If specific addresses are unknown, such as in the case of 
crop delivery to storage or market, the employer may describe the 
places to which deliveries will be made with as much specificity as 
possible (e.g., county or city names). To be clear, all worksites and 
physical locations where work will be performed under the job order, 
both those to which a worker must commute and those to which a worker 
must travel after their workday begins, must be disclosed in the 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification and job order; 
however, those worksites and physical locations to which a worker must 
travel after the workday begins to perform work under the job order 
will not be analyzed under the definition of AIE. These comments and 
the limitation of an Application for Temporary Employment Certification 
to one AIE, absent an exception, are discussed further in relation to 
the geographic scope provision at Sec.  655.130(e).
    A State employment agency expressed concern that the term ``places 
of employment'' may result in employer misrepresentation of the actual 
worksite, lead to confusion around where the ``actual worksite'' is 
located when reviewing a job order, and require the SWAs to identify 
more deficiencies in cases where the employer does not specify the 
worksite as a place of employment. A forestry employer expressed 
concern that the proposed definition would be unworkable because the 
employer performs work at places of employment across areas wider than 
normal commuting distances, considers employer-provided housing to be 
home, and does not expect workers to return home to their permanent 
residence each day.

    To add clarity, the Department has revised the definition of AIE so 
that ``place of employment'' is singular. As discussed above, there may 
be a number of places of employment listed on an Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification, as an employer must identify each 
worksite or physical location where work under the job order will be 
performed. However, the CO uses only one place--the first place of 
employment identified or, if designated, the centralized ``pick-up'' 
point (e.g., worker housing)--to determine the normal commuting 
distance around that place and whether all of the worksites or physical 
locations to which a worker may commute to begin the workday are within 
that normal commute. Where an employer's job opportunity involves a 
planned itinerary (e.g., animal shearing subject to Sec.  655.300), and 
in the event an AIE analysis is required, the normal commute at each 
place along the planned itinerary would be analyzed.
    Some commenters asserted that a normal-commuting-distance analysis 
should focus on the location of the housing or pick-up point employers 
provide for workers, rather than the places of employment listed on an 
employer's Application for Temporary Employment Certification. A trade 
association, with support from other commenters, stated that, because 
employers are required to provide transportation to worksites from the 
housing the employer provides or a pick-up point, a normal commuting 
distance for U.S. workers should be measured from their home to the 
housing or pick-up point, not the worksite(s); and thus argued that 
worksites have little bearing on the AIE labor market test. Another 
trade association similarly remarked that the ``housing or pick-up 
point, rather than the worksite'' should be the determining factor, 
asserting that this would reflect the commuting patterns of 
agricultural workers more accurately. An employer urged adoption of a 
standard that would consider a worksite to be within the AIE if the 
employer has provided housing at the worksite; as normal commuting 
distance would be measured from each of the various locations where the 
employer provided housing to workers, employers could file fewer 
Applications for Temporary Employment Certification, each application 
covering multiple AIEs. Similarly, an agent stated that employers are 
required to provide housing within a normal commuting distance, which 
``would allow for multiple work/housing locations on a single 
application.''
    The Department disagrees with commenters who assert that the 
location of one or more places of employment is not relevant to 
evaluating normal commuting distance whenever an employer provides 
transportation from a designated pick-up point, such as the housing it 
provides to H-2A workers and those workers in corresponding employment 
who are not reasonably able to return to their own residence within the 
same day, as provided in Sec.  655.122(d)(1). The Department likewise 
disagrees that providing additional housing at the place of employment 
negates the need for the AIE analysis. A worker who does not reside at 
the pick-up point must commute either to the pick-up point or to the 
place of employment directly. Further, if the workday does not begin at 
the pick-up point, the commute for a worker who travels to the pick-up 
point using their own transportation continues from the pick-up point 
to the place of employment using the employer's transportation. To the 
extent a commute involves multiple segments, workers in corresponding 
employment may not be able to reasonably return to their own residences 
within the same day. Although an employer would be required to provide 
such workers with housing, the Department noted in the NPRM (and 
farmworkers and their advocates agreed in comments) that longer-than-
normal commuting distance, transportation issues, and any requirement 
to live away from home and family are all factors that can discourage 
U.S. workers from accepting temporary agricultural job opportunities, 
impacting recruitment and the Department's ability to assess the labor 
market prior to issuing a final determination. Should a worker in 
corresponding employment choose not to live in employer-provided 
housing to reduce the commute, the Department has health and safety 
concerns, such as driver fatigue that can be exacerbated by increased 
commute times. In a comment addressing transportation safety under 
Sec.  655.122(h), a State employment agency noted that driver fatigue 
in agriculture is a ``real and concerning issue,'' stating that it is 
not uncommon to see workers at worksites that are hours away from 
housing sites. (To the extent these commenters are discussing workers' 
movement between various places of employment after the workday begins, 
the Department has addressed this issue above and in Sec.  655.130(e).)
    Separately, a workers' rights advocacy organization discussed the 
use of the definition of AIE for other purposes, for example, to frame 
the geographic area for prevailing practice and wage surveys, asserting 
that regulatory language at Sec. Sec.  655.122(d)(5) and 
653.501(c)(2)(i) limits AIE in those contexts to a single State. Those 
comments with regard to prevailing wage surveys are addressed in the 
discussion of prevailing wage determinations (PWDs) at Sec.  
655.120(c).
    In addition to soliciting comments on the proposed definitional 
changes, the Department invited input on whether it should further 
revise the definition of AIE either to continue making fact-based 
determinations on a case-by-case basis, with the consideration of other 
objective factors such as commuting or labor market area designation 
systems or other comprehensive commuting studies and data, or to 
implement a uniform standard, like a maximum commuting distance or time 
above which a commute would be considered unreasonable in all cases. 
The Department asked that comments address the advantages and 
disadvantages of different alternatives and how implementation would 
provide greater clarity and ensure the integrity of the labor market 
test.
    Commenters varyingly expressed general concerns that the current 
definition of AIE is too broad, too narrow, or too ambiguous, but 
without offering an alternative framework. A trade association stated 
that AIE ``varies by the nature of the employer's need and does not fit 
neatly into one defined box,'' while an employer expressed concern that 
the current definition created such a broad standard that it could 
result in subjective review of an application. An agent suggested the 
definition of AIE should be expanded to reflect that agricultural 
employers now have statewide and interstate production to ``reduce crop 
failure risks, expand marketing windows, and improve capital 
utilization''; otherwise, the commenter suggested, the definition 
failed to accommodate modernization of agricultural operations. Many 
farmworkers emphasized that it is important to them to work close 
either in distance or time to where they live due to the lack of a 
driver's license, post-work obligations like schoolwork, and the need 
to care for their children and be available if family emergencies 
occur. A workers' rights advocacy organization expressed concern that 
the definition of AIE leads to a large AIE and results in fewer U.S. 
worker applicants for job opportunities because the regulation does not 
require employers to provide transportation to local workers.
    Some commenters objected to the use of Metropolitan Statistical 
Areas (MSAs) in the H-2A program's definition of AIE as an objective 
means of evaluating a

normal commute in particular areas, but did not offer an alternative. 
Some trade associations, with support from other commenters, asserted 
that MSAs and commuting distance have no correlation with the nature of 
agricultural work. For example, one commenter stated that commute times 
associated with MSAs ``bear little resemblance to how agricultural 
workers get to their jobs.'' A workers' rights advocacy organization 
expressed concern that many farmworkers will have difficulty traveling 
to and between distant points within large MSAs and cited language from 
OMB stating that MSAs ``are not designed as a general-purpose framework 
for nonstatistical activities.'' See 2010 Standards for Delineating 
Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas; Notice, 75 FR 37246 
(June 28, 2010). One of the trade associations, with other commenters 
echoing its statement, noted that the widely varying commute times 
associated with different MSAs will make it difficult for a Farm Labor 
Contractor (FLC) to contract with a farmer with certainty about whether 
the farm will be determined to be inside or outside an arbitrary 
commute time for that specific MSA.
    The commenters who addressed whether the Department should impose a 
more uniform standard for all employers, such as a maximum commuting 
distance or time above which a commute would be considered unreasonable 
in all cases, generally did not support a rigid measure of time or 
distance applicable in all cases. Several trade associations and an 
agent stated that use of a specific metric to determine reasonable 
commuting distance would be difficult due to various factors. An agent 
commented that employers transport workers to ``wherever the work is 
available,'' and the Department should not limit transportation to 
commute times that may vary widely based on factors like traffic 
patterns. One stated that measuring commutes in miles would be 
inappropriate because it would not account for areas in which distance 
can be traveled quickly, and measuring in time would penalize those who 
travel difficult terrain or encounter heavy traffic during daily 
commutes. One trade association stated that there is too much variation 
in terrain, weather, population concentration, road quality, and 
traffic across the country to apply a rigid definition of normal 
commuting distance. Another trade association similarly remarked that 
it would be impossible to use a definitive rigid measure of reasonable 
commuting distance due to variation in agriculture across the country, 
and urged the Department to provide more flexibility. While one agent 
suggested that a rigid commuting distance could be consistently 
applied, an employer urged the Department to adopt a flexible approach 
and not apply a rigid definition of normal commuting distance.
    The commenters who suggested a maximum commute distance or commute 
time disagreed as to an appropriate limit. Trade associations, 
individual employers, and an agent suggested the Department should not 
consider a commute time to be unreasonable unless, for example, the 
worksite is at least 2 hours from the housing, the pick-up point, or 
both. One viewed it as a more easily understood approach that ``would 
prevent any misunderstanding of whether a specific farm will fit an 
MSA's commute time and better conform to the realities of agricultural 
employment.'' An agent commented that a smaller, more restrictive AIE 
is not helpful to anyone, neither the small local workforce that is not 
large enough for farmers' needs, nor the farmer who will have to 
artificially separate parts of its widespread operation to fit into 
discrete AIEs. This commenter argued that the Department has ``no 
statistics that legal, local or domestic workers would take jobs if 
they were just confined to about a 60-mile radius of any one farm.'' By 
comparison, a workers' rights advocacy organization urged the 
Department to limit the definition of ``normal commuting distance'' to 
distances ``considerably shorter than the 60+ mile figure'' requested 
by employers and suggested that a more reasonable maximum distance 
might be 45 miles. Some commenters who opposed a maximum commuting 
distance stated that if the Department were to adopt a maximum distance 
standard, it should provide flexibility to account for typical travel 
delays.
    Upon careful consideration of all comments received, the Department 
declines to further modify the definition of AIE. Although using MSAs 
as a proxy for commuting area may result in broader geographic areas 
than might seem typical for jobs in rural areas, employers are required 
to provide housing to any worker in corresponding employment unable to 
reasonably return home at the end of the workday, including those who 
reside within the broadly identified commuting area. Some commenters 
appeared to conflate the concept of ``reasonable commuting distance'' 
as used in this section with the requirement that the employer provide 
housing to workers in corresponding employment who are not reasonably 
able to return to their residence within the same day. The Department 
notes that reasonable commuting distance as it relates to AIE is a 
general concept, whereas a determination as to whether a worker in 
corresponding employment is reasonably able to return to their 
residence at the end of the day is specific to the worker in question. 
Therefore, it is possible that a worker in corresponding employment 
could reside within a reasonable commuting distance of the place of 
employment, but could not reasonably return to their residence at the 
end of the day due to personal circumstances (e.g., lack of a private 
vehicle or public transportation). In such a situation, the employer 
would be required to offer housing to the worker in corresponding 
employment. Therefore, while commenters provided certain arguments that 
MSAs might be an imperfect fit in some situations, these comments 
neglect to consider the continued value in using MSAs to provide a 
level of predictability and adjudicatory consistency for employers 
nationwide, which the Department and many commenters both consider 
important. As commenters have not identified any clearly superior 
alternative, this final rule continues to rely on a case-by-case 
approach to assessing AIE given the varying circumstances across areas 
that affect travel and commuting times.
c. Average AEWR
    The NPRM proposed to define a new term ``average adverse effect 
wage rate'' (average AEWR). The term is necessary to effectuate the 
Department's proposal to make adjustments to the H-2ALC surety bond 
amounts based on changes to a nationwide average AEWR. The Department 
proposed to calculate the average AEWR as a simple average of the 
published AEWRs applicable to the Standard Occupational Classification 
(SOC) 45-2092 (Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse) 
and publish an updated average AEWR annually to serve as the benchmark 
for future adjustments to the required bond amounts.
    The Department received only two comments specifically relating to 
the proposal to define the average AEWR. Both commenters misunderstood 
the nature of this proposal, believing that the Department was 
proposing an alternative to the wage sources listed in Sec.  
655.120(a), and opposed the proposal for this reason. The Department 
reiterates that the average AEWR is only intended to be used as a 
benchmark for

making adjustments to the required bond amounts. Under this proposal, 
the average AEWR does not change or replace the wage rate required 
under Sec.  655.120(a).\20\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \20\ See 84 FR 36168, 36179 (explaining that the Department 
proposes to maintain the current requirement in Sec.  655.120(a) 
that an employer must offer, advertise in its recruitment, and pay a 
wage that is the highest of the AEWR, the prevailing wage, the 
agreed-upon collective bargaining wage, the Federal minimum wage, or 
the State minimum wage, with only minor changes).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Accordingly, the Department adopts the definition of average AEWR 
with minor modifications. As defined in this final rule, the average 
AEWR is the simple average of the AEWRs applicable to the SOC 45-2092 
(Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse) and published 
by the OFLC Administrator in accordance with Sec.  655.120.\21\ The 
revised definition clarifies that once set, the average AEWR remains in 
effect until the OFLC Administrator publishes an adjusted average AEWR 
and it becomes effective. Adjustments to the average AEWR will occur 
consistent with the schedule for adjusting the relevant AEWRs under 
Sec.  655.120.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \21\ The AEWR methodology proposed in the NPRM would have 
resulted in the publication of separate AEWRs specific to the SOC 
45-2092 and other occupational classifications for field and 
livestock workers. Under the modifications made to the Department's 
AEWR methodology in the 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule, the OFLC 
Administrator would instead publish an AEWR for each State for a 
combined field and livestock workers category, which would be 
applicable to the SOC 45-2092. However, as discussed above, the 2020 
H-2A AEWR Final Rule was preliminarily enjoined in United Farm 
Workers v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, No. 20-cv-01690 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 23, 
2020). Regardless of the precise AEWR methodology used, the average 
AEWR will be based on the AEWRs that apply to the SOC 45-2092, 
whether they are SOC-specific or for a combined field and livestock 
workers category.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

d. Corresponding Employment
    The NPRM did not propose amendments to the definition of 
corresponding employment or request comments on any aspect of the 
definition. However, the Department received a few comments suggesting 
modifications to the definition, none of which necessitated substantive 
changes to the regulatory text from the NPRM. Therefore, this final 
rule retains the definition of corresponding employment from the 
current rule without change.
    Several commenters stated that the definition should be modified to 
include a de minimis exception, allowing non-H-2A workers to perform a 
limited amount of work similar to the duties described in the job order 
or performed by the H-2A workers without being considered to be engaged 
in corresponding employment. Alternatively, several commenters 
indicated that the definition should be more similar to the definition 
of corresponding employment under the H-2B program regulations, which 
defines corresponding employment to include work that is either 
substantially similar to the work included in the job order or 
substantially the same work performed by H-2B workers, and excludes 
certain full-time, incumbent employees. See 20 CFR 655.5; 29 CFR 503.4.
    The Department has carefully considered these comments requesting 
that the definition of corresponding employment be revised and narrowed 
but declines to alter the definition of corresponding employment at 
this time. The Department did not propose any changes to the definition 
of corresponding employment or request comments on any aspect of the 
definition. Many parties who would be affected by any change in the 
definition of corresponding employment therefore had no reason to 
anticipate any change in the current definition or to provide input as 
to how the definition could be revised. The Department received only a 
limited number of comments on this topic, all from employers and their 
representatives, with no feedback from other affected parties to enable 
the Department to obtain multiple perspectives on this issue. Further, 
the regulation provides important protections for workers by requiring 
that non-H-2A workers performing the same work as H-2A workers receive 
the same wages and working conditions as H-2A workers. Accordingly, the 
Department declines to adopt any changes to the definition of 
corresponding employment.
e. Employer and Joint Employment
    The NPRM proposed amendments to the definitions of ``employer'' and 
``joint employment'' to clarify the use of these terms in the filing of 
Applications for Temporary Employment Certification and the 
responsibilities of joint employers, consistent with the INA and the 
Department's longstanding administrative and enforcement practice. The 
Department received many comments on these proposed definitions, none 
of which necessitated substantive changes to the regulatory text. 
Therefore, as discussed below, these definitions remain unchanged from 
the NPRM with one minor revision.
    Section 218 of the INA recognizes that growers, agricultural 
associations, and H-2ALCs that file applications are employers or joint 
employers.\22\ In conformity with the statute as well as the 
Department's current policy and practice, the NPRM proposed to clarify 
the definitions of employer and joint employment with respect to the H-
2A program to include all of those entities the statute deems employers 
or joint employers. Specifically, the Department proposed to add 
language to the definition of joint employment to clarify that an 
agricultural association that files an application as a joint employer 
is, at all times, a joint employer of all H-2A workers sponsored under 
the application and, if applicable, of corresponding workers. The 
Department further proposed to clarify the definition of joint 
employment to include an employer-member of an agricultural association 
that is filing as a joint employer, but only during the period in which 
the employer-member employs H-2A workers sponsored under the 
association's joint employer application. The Department proposed to 
add language to the definition of joint employment to clarify that 
growers that file the joint employer application proposed in Sec.  
655.131(b) are joint employers, at all times, with respect to the H-2A 
workers sponsored under the application and all workers in 
corresponding employment. In light of these proposed changes, the 
Department also proposed a slight change to the joint employment 
language in the current regulation to clarify that entities that do not 
file applications but jointly employ workers under the common law of 
agency are also joint employers that may be held liable for violations 
under the statute. In other words, entities that file applications as 
joint employers are joint employers as a matter of law, regardless of 
the common law of agency. The Department will assess the joint employer 
status of all other entities based on the nature of the employment 
relationship between the putative joint employer and the worker under 
the common law of agency, as provided in the existing definition of 
employee at Sec.  655.103 and required by Supreme Court precedent. In 
addition to the proposed changes to the definition of joint employment, 
the Department proposed to add language to the definition of employer 
to clarify that a

person who files an application other than as an agent is an employer 
and, similarly, that a person on whose behalf an application is filed 
is an employer. As the Department noted in the NPRM, these proposed 
revisions reflected the Department's longstanding administrative and 
enforcement practice that is already familiar to employers.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \22\ See 8 U.S.C. 1188(c)(2) (``The employer shall be notified 
in writing within seven days of the date of filing if the 
application does not meet the [relevant] standards''); 8 U.S.C. 
1188(c)(3)(A)(i) (``The Secretary of Labor shall make . . . the 
certification described in subsection (a)(1) if . . . the employer 
has complied with the criteria for certification''); 8 U.S.C. 
1188(d)(2) (``If an association is a joint or sole employer of 
temporary agricultural workers, . . . [H-2A] workers may be 
transferred among its [employer-]members'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Joint Employment for Agricultural Associations Filing as a Joint 
Employer With Their Employer-Members
    The Department received numerous comments related to its proposal 
to clarify that an agricultural association that files an application 
as a joint employer is, at all times, a joint employer of all H-2A 
workers sponsored under the application and, if applicable, of 
corresponding workers. Two associations supported the proposed 
definition of joint employment. Two other associations submitted 
lengthy comments opposing the proposal. The two associations opposing 
the proposal each asserted the INA does not permit the Department to 
impose joint employer liability on an agricultural association for the 
violations of an association member, unless the association committed, 
participated in, or had knowledge of the violation. The associations 
cited sec. 1188(d)(3)(A) of the INA, which limits the debarment of 
joint employer agricultural associations based on violations an 
employer-member commits to instances in which the agricultural 
association committed, participated in, had knowledge of, or had reason 
to know of the violation. The associations submitted that Congress's 
specific choice to permit debarment for an employer-member violation 
only when an agricultural association meets this standard evinces a 
general intent to hold agricultural associations otherwise accountable 
for employer-member violations only when they committed, participated 
in, or knew of the underlying violation.
    The associations explained that Congress conferred a ``special 
status'' on agricultural associations ``in order to level the playing 
field for small employers'' and that imposing joint employer liability 
on agricultural associations that elect to file a joint employer 
application would ``frustrate that status'' because associations cannot 
afford exposure to such liability. Both assert that exposure to such 
liability would result in associations' inability to file joint 
employer applications. The associations also stated that the Department 
has historically applied the common law of agency to determine whether 
an entity employs a worker and oppose the ``proposed radical change to 
agency law.''
    Two other associations asserted that the Department has never held 
an association liable for employer-member violations unless the 
association was involved in or directly participated in the violation. 
One of these associations also agreed with the two associations 
described immediately above that the proposal to hold agricultural 
associations accountable for employer-member violations when the 
agricultural association elected to file a joint employer application 
is inconsistent with the statute. That association also commented that 
the proposal will reduce small farmers' access to the program and 
potentially threaten the existence and participation of associations in 
the program. And finally, various other employer commenters lodged 
general objections to holding associations liable for the violations 
that their employer-members commit.\23\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \23\ Another agricultural association that submitted a comment 
(generally supported by several other commenters, including trade 
associations and individual employers) offered no criticism of the 
NPRM's clarification that agricultural associations that file a 
joint employer application are liable at all times for violations 
committed against H-2A workers sponsored under the applications as 
well as any applicable corresponding workers.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A workers' rights advocacy organization supported the Department's 
proposal to clarify that an agricultural association that elects to 
file a joint employer application is at all times a joint employer of 
the H-2A workers sponsored under the application as well as any 
corresponding workers. The commenter submitted that the clarification 
will incentivize associations to monitor employer-member compliance 
with program requirements.
    After carefully considering the comments it received, the 
Department has decided to retain its proposed clarification of the 
definition of joint employment to include language specifying that an 
agricultural association that files an application as a joint employer 
is, at all times, a joint employer of all H-2A workers sponsored under 
the application and any corresponding workers. The plain language of 
sec. 1188(d) of the INA requires this interpretation. Section 
1188(d)(2) only allows an agricultural association to file a single 
application on behalf of its employer-members to sponsor H-2A workers 
that it may ``transfer'' among its membership ``[i]f [the agricultural] 
association is a joint or sole employer of temporary agricultural 
workers.'' \24\ Thus, an association attests to joint employer status 
when it submits a joint employer application for authorization to 
transfer H-2A workers among its membership. In addition to permitting 
the association to transfer H-2A workers, filing a single application 
rather than individual applications on behalf of each employer-member 
of an agricultural association results in significant financial savings 
and substantially reduces the efforts and costs associated with the 
required recruitment and advertising. The statute requires an 
agricultural association to assume joint employer (or sole employer) 
status to qualify for these benefits.\25\ Even if the statutory 
language did not compel this result, the Department would nevertheless 
adopt this interpretation as agricultural associations are uniquely 
positioned to be knowledgeable of program requirements, and this 
requirement encourages associations that transfer workers among their 
employer-members to ensure that their employer-members understand 
program rules and regulations, assist their membership in achieving 
compliance, and provide accountability for agricultural associations 
filing as joint employers.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \24\ See also the title of sec. 1188(d)(2) (``Treatment of 
Associations Acting as Employers.'') (emphasis added).
    \25\ See Admin. v. WAFLA, ALJ No. 2018-TAE-00013 (OALJ Aug. 25, 
2021), appeal pending, ARB No. 2021-0069 (agricultural association 
is a joint employer of workers employed under master application as 
a matter of law); Little v. Solis, 297 FRD. 474, 478 (D. Nev. Jan. 
27, 2014) (as a joint employer applicant, agricultural association 
is a joint employer of H-2A workers for purposes of the H-2A 
program); Ruiz v. Fernandez, 949 F. Supp. 2d 1055, 1072 (E.D. Wash. 
June 7, 2013) (an agricultural association that submits a joint 
employer application is a party to the H-2A workers' work contracts 
as a matter of law); Martinez-Bautista v. D & S Produce, 447 F. 
Supp. 2d 954, 962 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 25, 2006) (entities that jointly 
applied to employ H-2A workers are joint employers of the workers); 
cf. WHD v. Native Techs., Inc., ARB No. 98-034, 1999 WL 377285, *6 
(ARB May 28, 1999) (filer of a labor condition application under H-
1B provisions of the INA is an ``employer'' by operation of law, 
independent of criteria under the common law test of employer); but 
see Admin. v. Azzano Farms & WAFLA, ALJ No. 2019-TAE-00002 (OALJ 
Oct. 2, 2019), appeal pending, ARB No. 2020-0013.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Should an agricultural association prefer not to accept the 
obligations of joint (or sole) employment, it may choose instead to 
file individual applications on behalf of its employer-members as an 
agent, thereby limiting its liability, consistent with sec. 1188(d)(1) 
(but also foregoing the privileges that apply if it files a Master 
Application). The statutory scheme accordingly permits an agricultural 
association to choose to assume the

traditional responsibilities of a joint/sole employer, including any 
liability to the workers it jointly/solely employs--or file an 
application as an agent and generally avoid employer liability. 
However, when associations file as agents, H-2A workers cannot be 
transferred among their employer-members, pursuant to sec. 1188(d)(2).
    The Department notes the contention that it has never sought to 
hold an agricultural association liable for employer-member violations 
unless the agricultural association was involved in the violations is 
inaccurate. Holding an association accountable for employer-member 
violations when the association attested to joint employer status is 
consistent with WHD's current statutory interpretation and its 
enforcement policy. WHD is presently asserting before the ARB that an 
association is liable for its employer-member's violations based solely 
on its having filed a joint employer application.\26\ WHD has also 
previously sought to enforce program requirements against other 
associations based solely on their election of joint employer status.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \26\ See Azzano Farms, ARB No 2020-0013; WAFLA, ARB No. 2021-
0069.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Additionally, it is inaccurate to state that sec. 1188(d)(3)(A) 
provides that violations committed by an association member are not the 
responsibility of an association unless the Secretary determines that 
the association participated in, had knowledge of, or had reason to 
know of the violations. Rather, this section provides that an 
association is not subject to debarment when an employer-member commits 
a violation (unless the Secretary determines that the association or 
other employer-member participated in, had knowledge of, or had reason 
to know of the violations). Read together, sec. 1188(d)(2) and (3)(A) 
assign full legal responsibility to agricultural associations for 
employer-member violations, with the exception of a release from 
program debarment for an agricultural association when the Department 
cannot satisfy sec. 1188(d)(3)(A)'s more exacting standard.
    The debarment standard provides a meaningful limitation on the 
Department's authority to debar an agricultural association for its 
employer-member's violations. Consistent with the provision, the 
Department's implementing regulations do not permit the Department to 
debar an association merely because its employer-member committed a 
substantial violation that subjects the employer-member to debarment. 
See 29 CFR 501.20(f).
    When an association is not subject to debarment, civil money 
penalty assessments against the agricultural association for employer-
member violations may be lower than those assessed for association 
members. As the Department noted in the NPRM, it will continue to apply 
its longstanding policy with respect to imposing liability among 
culpable joint employers. This policy includes consideration of the 
factors at Sec.  501.19(b) when the Department assesses civil money 
penalties. The Department applies these factors to joint employers on a 
case-by-case basis. Thus, for example, if the Department determines an 
agricultural association achieved no financial gain from an employer-
member's failure to pay the required wage to H-2A or corresponding 
workers, but that the employer-member achieved significant financial 
gain, the civil money penalty, if any, applicable to the association 
would likely be less than that applicable to the employer-member for 
this violation.
Joint Employment for Employers Filing Joint Employer Applications Under 
Sec.  655.131(b)
    The Department received various comments concerning its proposal to 
add language to the definition of joint employment clarifying that 
growers that file the joint employer application proposed in Sec.  
655.131(b) are joint employers, at all times, with respect to the H-2A 
workers sponsored under the application and any corresponding workers. 
Five organizations representing growers' interests expressed 
appreciation that the Department was proposing to permit ``small 
growers to jointly apply'' for H-2A workers and to permit such growers 
to share H-2A workers. However, these commenters, as well as a sixth 
organization, all opposed the Department's proposal to treat each 
grower as a joint employer at all times for purposes of liability. The 
five organizations representing growers' interests requested that the 
Department only hold employer(s) that commit a program violation 
accountable. They asserted that co-applicants that do not commit the 
violations are ``innocent'' and should not be held liable ``for another 
employer's violation(s).'' The sixth organization similarly submitted 
that ``[o]nly the employer [that] is guilty for violating the terms of 
the program should be penalized.'' Another organization representing 
growers' interests likewise contended ``there is no basis for extending 
liability to any entity that did not have knowledge of or participate 
in any violation . . . .''
    A workers' rights advocacy organization suggested that the job 
order that joint employers file in connection with a Sec.  655.131(b) 
joint employer application should include language specifying that all 
named employers are agreeing to joint employment liability for the 
entire period of employment listed on the order. Otherwise, the 
commenter asserted, joint employers might contend liability extends 
solely to the dates on which H-2A workers complete work at the property 
owned or operated by the particular employer. The commenter 
specifically submitted this addition is necessary to prevent joint 
employer applicants from ``disputing joint employment should something 
go wrong.''
    The Department has reviewed closely the comments it received on 
this subject. It has decided to retain its proposed clarification of 
the definition of joint employment to include language specifying that 
the joint employers that file an application under Sec.  655.131(b) 
are, at all times, joint employers of all H-2A workers sponsored under 
the application and, if applicable, of corresponding workers. The 
purpose of the Department's proposal to add Sec.  655.131(b) to its 
implementing regulations was to permit a small grower that has a need 
for H-2A workers but cannot, alone, guarantee full-time employment to 
use the H-2A program by joining with another (or other) small grower(s) 
in the same area to obtain H-2A workers to perform the same work. Full-
time employment under the program is 35 hours per workweek. See Sec.  
655.135(f). The proposal accordingly permits co-applicants that cannot, 
alone, employ a worker for 35 hours per workweek to file an application 
together to employ H-2A workers and to move sponsored H-2A workers from 
one employer to another to satisfy the 35 hours per workweek 
requirement.
    The statute specifically contemplates that all filers (other than 
agents) are employers and only expressly permits an entity (i.e., an 
agricultural association) to move H-2A workers from one employer to 
another when the entity agrees to retain program responsibility and 
liability with respect to the workers it moves. See 8 U.S.C. 
1188(d)(2). Therefore, as the Department stated in the NPRM and 
reaffirms here, the statute requires entities that jointly apply for H-
2A workers whom they intend to move among themselves to retain program 
responsibility with respect to the H-2A workers and, if applicable, any 
corresponding workers. Because the statute provides that an entity 
permitted to move H-2A workers from one employer to another must

retain program responsibility with respect to the workers, and because 
the retention of such responsibility will aid the Department's 
enforcement of the program and enable corresponding workers and H-2A 
workers to obtain the wages they are owed consistent with joint 
employment principles, the Department is not adopting the commenters' 
request to release co-applicants from liability for the violations that 
another co-applicant commits. Thus, if the Department determines any 
employer named in the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification under Sec.  655.131(b) has committed a violation, either 
one or all of the employers named in the Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification can be found responsible for remedying the 
violation(s) and for attendant penalties. For example, if employer C 
and employer D file a joint employer application under proposed Sec.  
655.131(b) and employer C fails to pay the H-2A workers the required 
wage, employer D will be jointly liable for employer C's violations. 
This approach not only conforms to the statute, it is consistent with 
judicial authority.\27\ Further, even if the statutory language did not 
require this interpretation, the Department would adopt it. The 
Department believes this policy will encourage employer compliance 
while helping to ensure that any back wages owed by joint employers 
will be paid. As an enforcement matter, it can be difficult to 
determine exactly where workers employed by joint employers are 
employed in a given workweek. The focus on the joint nature of the 
employment rather than the individual employer will assist in obtaining 
the wages owed to workers in the event they are underpaid and provide 
an incentive for all joint employers to maintain and monitor 
compliance.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \27\ Martinez-Bautista v. D & S Produce, 447 F. Supp. 2d 954, 
960-62 (E.D. Ark. 2006) (ruling entities that jointly applied to 
employ H-2A workers are joint employers of the workers and rejecting 
application of agricultural association liability principles when 
the joint employers had not filed through an association).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    However, the Department retains discretion to impose lower civil 
money penalties against the joint employers that did not commit the 
underlying violation. If it determines any such penalties are 
appropriate, such penalties may be less than those it imposes against 
the joint employer that committed the violation. As the Department 
noted above, it will continue to apply its longstanding policy with 
respect to imposing liability among culpable joint employers. This 
policy includes consideration of the factors at 29 CFR 501.19(b) when 
the Department assesses civil money penalties. The Department applies 
these factors to joint employers on a case-by-case basis. Thus, for 
example, if the Department determines a joint employer had no previous 
history of violations, but that the other joint employer had a previous 
history of violations, the civil money penalty, if any, applicable to 
the joint employer with no previous history of violations would likely 
be less than that applicable to the joint employer that committed the 
violation.
    Furthermore, as with agricultural associations that filed a joint 
employer application with their employer-members, the Department will 
not debar a joint employer that filed a joint employer application 
under 20 CFR 655.131(b) merely because another joint employer committed 
a substantial violation that subjects that other joint employer to 
debarment. Thus, for instance, if employer D in the example above did 
not participate in employer C's violation, the Department will not seek 
to debar employer D, even if employer C's underlying violation is 
substantial and subjects employer C to a debarment remedy. The 
Department has edited 20 CFR 655.182(h) and 29 CFR 501.20(f) to confirm 
this approach.
    Joint Employment Period for Employer-Members Employing H-2A Workers 
Under an Agricultural Association Filing as a Joint Employer With the 
Employer-Members
    The Department proposed to clarify the definition of joint 
employment to include an employer-member of an agricultural association 
that is filing as a joint employer during the time the employer-member 
employs H-2A workers sponsored under the association's joint employer 
application. Therefore, an employer that employs H-2A workers sponsored 
under an agricultural association joint employer application is jointly 
employing the H-2A workers with the agricultural association and, 
accordingly, is liable for any violations committed during the period 
it employs such workers. The proposed rule additionally clarified that 
an employer that is a member of an agricultural association that filed 
a joint employer application is only in joint employment with the 
agricultural association when it is employing the pertinent H-2A 
workers. Thus, if employer-member A commits program violations at a 
time when it is the only employer-member jointly employing the 
pertinent H-2A workers with the agricultural association, other 
employer-members within the association are not liable for such 
violations (provided the other employer-members did not participate in 
the violations, which were substantial, and thereby subject themselves 
to debarment). See 8 U.S.C. 1188(d)(3)(A); 29 CFR 501.20(f). The 
Department received no comments that caused it to reconsider this 
proposal. The Department has accordingly implemented the provision 
unchanged from the NPRM in this final rule.
    The Department notes that the arrangement described above under 
Sec.  655.103(b) is different from employers filing joint employer 
applications under Sec.  655.131(b) that are, at all times, liable for 
any violation that another joint employer commits. As discussed 
previously, each Sec.  655.131(b) joint employer is permitted to move 
H-2A workers to its co-applicants, whereas it is the agricultural 
association, not the employer-member, that may transfer workers when 
the agricultural association files as a joint or sole employer. The 
statute expressly permits an association to move H-2A workers from one 
entity to another only when the association agrees to retain program 
responsibility with respect to the moved H-2A workers by filing as a 
joint or sole employer. The Department has accordingly concluded that 
to permit Sec.  655.131(b) joint employers to move workers, it must 
require the joint employers, like an agricultural association permitted 
to transfer H-2A workers, to retain program responsibility with respect 
to the H-2A workers. In short, the legally relevant analog to Sec.  
655.131(b) joint employers for purposes of determining whether to 
require such employers to retain program responsibility at all times is 
an agricultural association that files a joint or sole employer 
application (not an employer-member of such an association). As a 
matter of policy, providing joint employers joint responsibility also 
serves to better ensure compliance with statutory and regulatory 
requirements in the same way that shared responsibility between 
associations and their membership incentivizes compliance.
The Joint Employment Language More Expressly Codifies That the Common 
Law of Agency Determines Joint Employer Status for Non-Filers
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed a slight change to the joint 
employment language in the current regulation to make clear that an 
entity that meets the definition of employer under the common law of 
agency but did not file an H-2A application is a joint employer. As the 
Department explained in the NPRM, controlling judicial and 
administrative decisions provide that to the extent a Federal

statute does not define the term employer, the common law of agency 
governs whether an entity is an employer.\28\ Accordingly, the proposal 
continued to use the common law of agency, as provided by current Sec.  
655.103 in the definition of employee, to define the term joint 
employment for associations and growers that have not filed 
applications (as well as to define the term employer when an entity has 
not filed an application). Thus, for example, under the Department's 
current and continuing enforcement policy--with which employers are 
already familiar--a grower is a joint employer with an H-2ALC with 
which it contracts to provide H-2A workers if the grower is jointly 
employing the H-2A workers under the common law of agency. The 
Department received no comments that caused it to reconsider this 
proposal. It has accordingly implemented the proposal unchanged from 
the NPRM in this final rule.\29\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \28\ See Nationwide Mutual Insurance v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 
322-24 (1992); Garcia-Celestino v. Ruiz Harvesting, 843 F.3d 1276, 
1288 (11th Cir. 2016); Admin. v. Seasonal Ag. Services, Inc., ARB 
Case No. 15-023, 2016 WL 5887688, at *6 (ARB Sept. 30, 2016). The 
focus of the common law standard is the ``hiring entity's `right to 
control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished.' 
'' Ruiz Harvesting, 843 F.3d at 1292-93 (quoting Darden, 503 U.S. at 
323). Application of the standard typically entails consideration of 
a variety of factors. See id. at 1293 (citing Darden, 503 U.S. at 
323-24).
    \29\ The Department additionally notes, as it did in the NPRM, 
that the current H-2A program definitions of employer and joint 
employment, as well as those the Department is implementing herein, 
are different from the definitions of ``employer,'' ``employee,'' 
and ``employ'' in the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201 et 
seq. (FLSA) and the definition of ``employ'' in the Migrant and 
Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. 
(MSPA).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Department Is Adopting Clarifications to the Definition of Employer 
Proposed in the NPRM
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed to add language to the 
definition of employer to clarify both that a person who files an 
application other than as an agent is an employer and that a person on 
whose behalf an application is filed is an employer. An employer 
association opposed the proposed clarification. Its comment appeared to 
say that the definition of employer should be no broader than an entity 
that employs H-2A workers under the common law of agency. Two other 
associations asserted the proposed clarifications to the definition of 
employer are inconsistent with the INA. These two associations 
specifically asserted the statute does not permit the Department to 
hold agricultural associations accountable as an ``employer'' when they 
have filed a joint employer application on behalf of their employer-
members. The Department addressed above why the statute not only 
permits but also requires it to treat an agricultural association that 
files a Master Application as a joint employer of the pertinent 
workers. Because a joint employer is simply an employer of workers that 
another entity also employs, the statute requires the Department to 
treat an agricultural association that files an application as a joint 
employer as an ``employer.'' The Department's clarification of the 
definition of employer to include those that file an application (other 
than as an agent) is not only consistent with the INA; the INA compels 
it. Further, even if the INA did not compel this conclusion, the 
Department would nonetheless adopt these clarifications as a matter of 
good policy. The Department believes this policy will encourage 
employer compliance by providing an incentive for associations to 
disseminate information, make additional inquiries regarding their 
employer-members' responsibilities to workers under certified H-2A 
applications, and help to assure that any back wages owed by joint 
employers will be paid in full.
    The Department also received a comment that the current definition 
of employer does not adequately contemplate complex business 
organizations. It is beyond the scope of this rulemaking for the 
Department to determine all the ways that a business seeking to use the 
H-2A program might organize itself. The Department hopes the following 
general guidance will be useful to entities that use complex business 
structures. The Department will treat the entity that files an 
application as an employer unless the filer identifies itself as an 
agent. If the filer identifies itself as an agent, the Department will 
treat as an employer the entity the agent identifies as its principal. 
The Department will also treat any other entity that actually employs 
the pertinent H-2A workers under the common law of agency as an 
employer. For example, if one entity within a complex business 
organization files an application as an employer and another entity 
within the same complex business organization employs the workers under 
the common law of agency, the Department will treat each entity as an 
employer (whether or not the filer jointly employs the workers under 
the common law). Other tests that may pertain to the employment 
relationship under Federal common law such as the integrated employer 
or the successor in interest tests may also be applicable depending on 
the facts of the individual case. This paragraph is intended to provide 
general guidance, however, and as mentioned above, it is beyond the 
scope of this rulemaking to determine all the ways that a business 
seeking to participate in the program might organize itself.
    A commenter also brought to the Department's attention a minor 
grammatical error in the regulatory text's definition of employer at 
paragraph (iii). The Department agrees with the commenter and has made 
a minor technical change to the language to address the grammatical 
error.
Employer-Member Responsibility for Violations Committed Under a Joint 
Employer Application Filed by an Agricultural Association
    Consistent with existing practice, the Department observed in the 
NPRM that when an agricultural association files a joint employer 
application, an employer-member of that association is an employer of 
the H-2A workers during the time the employer-member employs the 
workers. The Department further noted that when only one employer-
member is employing the H-2A workers at the time of a program 
violation, only that employer-member and its agricultural association 
are fiscally responsible for program violations. The Department 
received no comments opposing this approach and is accordingly 
implementing it unchanged from the NPRM.
Department's Approach To Imposing Liability Among Culpable Joint 
Employers
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed to continue to apply its 
longstanding policy with respect to imposing liability among culpable 
joint employers. This policy, as noted previously, includes 
consideration of the factors at 29 CFR 501.19(b) when the Department 
assesses civil money penalties. The Department applies these factors to 
joint employers on a case-by-case basis. For example, if the Department 
determines an agricultural association achieved no financial gain from 
an employer-member's failure to pay the required wage to H-2A or 
corresponding workers, but that the employer-member achieved 
significant financial gain, the civil money penalty, if any, applicable 
to the association would likely be less than that applicable to the 
employer-member for this violation.
    The Department received multiple comments supporting this approach. 
For example, a grower association specifically voiced its support for 
the

case-by-case approach. The Department also received a comment from 
another grower association opposing this approach, however, arguing 
that only the culpable party or parties should be assessed a civil 
money penalty. As noted above, the Department will apply the relevant 
factors on a case-by-case basis to joint employers and thus 
appropriately consider culpability. The Department accordingly intends 
to continue to assess civil money penalties against joint employers in 
this manner.
Proposal To Move Certain Requirements in the Definition of Employer
    The current definition of employer in the H-2A program requires an 
employer to have a place of business in the United States and a means 
of contact for employment as well as a Federal Employer Identification 
Number (FEIN). The Department proposed to move these requirements to 
Sec. Sec.  655.121(a)(1) and 655.130(a). The proposal required a 
prospective employer to include its FEIN, its place of business in the 
United States, and a means of contact for employment in both its job 
order submission to the NPC and its Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification. The Department is implementing its proposal 
to move these requirements unchanged from the NPRM in this final rule.
f. First Date of Need and Period of Employment
    The NPRM proposed to add definitions of the terms ``first date of 
need'' and ``period of employment.'' The Department received many 
comments on the definition of ``first date of need'' and has revised 
the proposed definition after consideration of these comments, as 
discussed below. The Department received no comments on the proposed 
definition of ``period of employment'' and has adopted the definition 
without change from the NPRM.
    The Department explained in the NPRM that an employer indicates the 
period of employment on its job order and Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification by identifying the first and last dates on 
which it requires the temporary agricultural labor or services for 
which it seeks a temporary agricultural labor certification. The first 
date the employer identifies on the job order and Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification is used as the date on which work 
will start for purposes of recruitment and for calculating program 
requirements (e.g., the positive recruitment period under Sec.  
655.158). However, as actual start dates may vary due to such factors 
as travel delays or crop conditions at the time the employer expected 
work to begin, the Department proposed to define the term ``first date 
of need'' as the first date on which the employer ``anticipates'' 
requiring the temporary agricultural labor or services sought. The 
Department explained that the inclusion of the word ``anticipates'' in 
the definition would provide a limited degree of flexibility--up to 14 
calendar days after the first date of need listed on the temporary 
agricultural labor certification--for the actual start date of work for 
some or all of the temporary workers hired to occur.
    Commenters who supported the proposed definition and the inclusion 
of the word ``anticipates,'' included employers, agents, trade 
associations, two State government commenters, and a State elected 
official. These commenters asserted that some flexibility to adjust 
actual start dates would simplify the program and facilitate both 
compliance and administration, while ensuring workers still receive the 
benefits promised.
    Commenters who opposed the definition, including a workers' rights 
advocacy organization and farmworkers, focused their opposition on the 
potential for actual start date variability underlying the word 
``anticipates.'' These commenters asserted that delayed start dates are 
harmful to workers, who value predictability and certainty in 
employment start dates, particularly where they turn down other work or 
have to travel far to make themselves available to work at the time and 
place needed. In addition, these commenters stated that farmworkers 
have expenses beyond housing and meals and cannot afford to lose 
expected pay for up to 2 weeks, should the actual start date be later 
than the first date of need offered. Similarly, one State government 
commenter recommended the Department further clarify employer 
obligations to provide subsistence and/or meals to workers when work 
does not start on the anticipated start date to ensure that employers 
understand and satisfy those obligations.
    The workers' rights advocacy organization urged the Department to 
strengthen protections in the employment service regulations at Sec.  
653.501(c)(5) if the Department retains the proposal, by requiring the 
employer to pay workers the hourly rate for the hours listed on the job 
order on each day work is delayed (not only the workdays in the first 
workweek), unless the employer notifies both the SWA and worker (not 
only the SWA) at least 10 days before the anticipated start date, and 
setting the three-fourths guarantee calculation to the anticipated 
start date, rather than the actual start date. Amending the regulations 
at Sec.  653.501(c)(5) as suggested would be a major change to that 
regulation that commenters and stakeholders could not have anticipated 
as an outcome of the proposed definitions, thus warranting additional 
public notice and opportunity for comment. As such, the Department 
declines to adopt the suggestion at this time.
    A number of commenters expressed concern about the proposal. One 
employer thought workers might misuse the definition to arrive ``late'' 
and, as a result, employers would not have workers in place when 
needed. However, the Department did not intend for this definition to 
provide a flexible window for workers' arrival at the place of 
employment without the employer's consent. During recruitment, workers 
agree to make themselves available at the time and place needed. Should 
a worker not report for work for 5 consecutive working days without the 
employer's consent, the employer may exercise the abandonment provision 
at Sec.  655.122(n). In addition, a workers' rights advocacy 
organization expressed concern about the definition's application in 
master applications (i.e., applications agricultural associations may 
file in joint employment with their employer-members). The commenter 
thought that the actual start date flexibility, when combined with the 
Department's proposal to allow employer-members' actual start dates to 
vary by up to 14 days, could result in workers employed under a master 
application having actual start dates that vary by up to 28 days. This 
commenter asserted that this combination would increase the complexity 
of master applications and uncertainty for workers, which could 
discourage U.S. workers from applying. However, the proposed definition 
was intended to anchor the 14-day actual start date flexibility 
applicable to all employer-members on the master application to the 
earliest anticipated start date of any employer-member included in the 
application. As a result, all employer-members included in the master 
application would have been limited to the same 14-day ``anticipated'' 
start date flexibility window as any other H-2A application, calculated 
from the earliest employer-member start date included in the 
application.
    One commenter supported the definition and the 14-day flexibility 
discussed but stated 30 days of flexibility would be preferable. The 
commenter's suggestion would amplify

concerns other commenters have expressed about workers waiting for work 
to begin, which is a concern shared by the Department. In addition, the 
suggestion is inconsistent with the Department's observation of 
existing practice, as discussed above, in which a start date may vary 
slightly due to factors beyond an employer's control. Because the 
Department intended in the NPRM to clarify, not change, existing 
requirements and practice regarding anticipated and actual start dates, 
the Department declines to adopt the suggestion by the commenter.
    After consideration of the comments and suggestions, the Department 
reiterates that the proposed definition, including the word 
``anticipates,'' was only intended to make plain the Department's 
existing understanding that a projected start date of need is difficult 
to set with certainty, given the required time periods for filing, and 
the actual start date of agricultural work must be afforded some 
flexibility to accommodate environmental and other agricultural 
conditions at the time work was projected to begin. For example, the 
Wagner-Peyser agriculture clearance system uses the term 
``anticipated'' in relation to start dates and provides a process close 
to the start date the employer identified in the job order for the 
employer, the SWA, and referred farmworkers to communicate regarding 
the actual start date of work. See Sec.  653.501(c)(1)(iv)(D), 
(c)(3)(i) and (iv), (c)(5), and (d)(4). These regulations require an 
employer to notify the SWA of start date changes at least 10 business 
days before the originally anticipated start date and require the SWA 
to notify farmworkers that they should contact the SWA between 9 and 5 
business days before the anticipated start date to verify the actual 
start date of work. Sec.  653.501(c)(5) and (d)(4).
    The Department also appreciates the opportunity to clarify employer 
obligations and worker protections regarding possible changes from the 
first date of need disclosed in the H-2A job order to the actual start 
date of work. As discussed above, the Wagner-Peyser agriculture 
clearance system regulations facilitate communication between employers 
and farmworkers before workers who must travel to the place of 
employment depart for the place of employment. If an employer fails to 
timely notify the SWA of a start date change (i.e., at least 10 
business days before the anticipated first date identified in the job 
order), beginning on the first date of need, it must offer work hours 
and pay hourly wages to each farmworker who followed the procedure to 
contact the SWA for updated start date information. See Sec.  
653.501(c)(3)(i) and (c)(5). In addition, under the Department's H-2A 
regulations at Sec.  655.145(b), if an employer requests a start date 
delay after workers have departed for the place of employment, the 
employer must assure the CO that it will provide housing and 
subsistence to all workers who are already traveling to the place of 
employment, without cost to the workers, until work commences. If an 
employer fails to comply with its obligations, the SWA may notify the 
Department's WHD for possible enforcement, as provided in Sec.  
653.501(c)(5), or the Department may pursue revocation of the temporary 
agricultural labor certification, following the procedures at Sec.  
655.181, or debarment of the employer, following the procedures at 20 
CFR 655.182 or 29 CFR 501.20.
    Although the January 2021 draft final rule would have adopted the 
proposed definition of ``first date of need,'' after further 
consideration of the comments, the Department has determined that 
adopting the definition as proposed--including the term 
``anticipates,'' which the Department explained as a 14-day start date 
flexibility in the actual start date of work--in this final rule could 
increase, rather than decrease, complexity and confusion with regard to 
an employer's obligations in the event a start date delay is necessary. 
Including the word ``anticipates'' in the definition added ambiguity to 
the requirement, which could increase the potential for 
miscommunication or misunderstandings about when workers should be 
expected to begin work, or from when they should expect to be 
compensated. For example, as discussed above, commenters interpreted 
the proposal to mean that workers could choose to arrive within a 
flexible window of time, or that this would allow a variability of up 
to 28 days in master applications. In addition to the potential 
confusion this change might cause, the Department agrees that adding 
this language without also considering additional worker protections 
could be detrimental to workers, and this was not the Department's 
intention. As such, the Department has revised the definition of 
``first date of need'' in this final rule to remove the term 
``anticipates'' and the related 14-day flexibility for the actual start 
date of work.
    While the Department appreciates the suggestions commenters made 
with regard to enhancing existing worker protections related to start 
date delays, those suggestions are beyond the scope of this rulemaking 
as noted above. The proposal within the scope of this rulemaking was 
inclusion of start date flexibility of up to 14 days in the definition 
of ``first date of need'' and conforming language. For clarity, the 
Department reiterates that revising the proposed definition has no 
impact on the employer's obligations in the event of a start date 
delay, for example, under the Wagner-Peyser agriculture clearance 
system regulations.
g. Job Order
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to the definition of ``job 
order'' to conform to the proposed change under Sec.  655.121, 
requiring electronic filing of the job order by the employer and 
transmittal of the approved job order by the CO to the SWA, and 
updating the job order form name and number. The Department received 
one comment on the proposed changes to this definition, which did not 
necessitate substantive changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as 
discussed below, this definition remains unchanged from the NPRM.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization expressed support for the 
proposal, explaining that electronic filing would streamline processing 
times and reduce burden, but commented that the SWA, in addition to the 
NPC, should receive immediate notice of the filing of the job order and 
proposed that the words ``and SWA'' be added to the end of the proposed 
definition. The Department appreciates the comment but respectfully 
declines. As explained in addressing comments on Sec.  655.121, the 
changes to the job order filing process, under this final rule, avoid 
duplication of processes and will create significant savings and 
efficiencies for employers, SWAs, and the Department. Furthermore, 
transmission of the job order to the SWA will be virtually 
instantaneous upon submission in OFLC's Foreign Labor Application 
Gateway (FLAG) system.
h. Prevailing Wage
Proposed Definition in 20 CFR 655.103(b)
    The NPRM defined prevailing wage as the wage rate established by 
the OFLC Administrator for a crop activity or agricultural activity and 
geographic area based on a survey conducted by a State that meets the 
requirements in Sec.  655.120(c). The Department received no comments 
on this change. This final rule therefore adopts the language of the 
NPRM with a minor revision to account for a prevailing wage for a 
distinct work task or tasks performed within a crop or

agricultural activity, as applicable. This modification conforms the 
definition of prevailing wage with current practice and language in ETA 
Handbook 385, as well as changes made to other portions of Sec.  
655.120(c) in this final rule, discussed below.
Proposal in 20 CFR 653.501(c)(2)(i)
    The current H-2A regulation defines ``prevailing wage'' as the 
``[w]age established pursuant to Sec.  653.501(d)(4),'' the Wagner-
Peyser Act regulation that covers clearance of both H-2A and non-H-2A 
interstate and intrastate agricultural job orders. Due to regulatory 
revisions to part 653, Sec.  653.501(d)(4) no longer addresses 
prevailing wages but rather discusses the referral of workers.\30\ The 
current version of Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i), in turn, requires SWAs to 
ensure the employer has offered no less than the higher of prevailing 
wages or the applicable Federal or State minimum wage for H-2A and non-
H-2A agricultural job orders, but it does not address how prevailing 
wages are established.
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    \30\ The Department revised 20 CFR part 653 in 2016 in response 
to the enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 
2014, which amended the Wagner-Peyser Act. See Final Rule, Workforce 
Innovation and Opportunity Act, 81 FR 56072 (Aug. 19, 2016). The 
contents in Sec.  653.501(d)(4) are now located, with changes not 
relevant here, in Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i).
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    In the NPRM, the Department proposed to use the same methodology to 
establish the prevailing wage for both H-2A and non-H-2A agricultural 
job orders. As a result, it proposed to amend Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i) to 
define ``prevailing wage'' for the agricultural recruitment system in 
the same manner as the Department proposed to define ``prevailing 
wage'' for the H-2A program in Sec.  655.103(b). Section 655.103(b), as 
proposed, defined ``prevailing wage'' as ``[a] wage rate established by 
the OFLC Administrator for a crop activity or agricultural activity and 
geographic area based on a survey conducted by a [S]tate that meets the 
requirements in Sec.  655.120(c).'' As discussed below, this final rule 
adopts the proposed amendment to Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i) with minor 
clarifying changes.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization opposed the Department's 
proposed change to Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i) on the basis that it only 
referred to prevailing wage surveys, thus establishing such surveys as 
the ``sole mechanism'' to determine whether the prevailing wage rate is 
the highest rate of pay. This commenter expressed concern that the 
proposal would reduce the SWA's role in determining prevailing wages. 
The commenter explained the current regulation at Sec.  
653.501(c)(2)(i) allows an ``active role'' by SWAs to ``independently 
determine'' that prevailing wages in some areas of a State are higher 
than the AEWR, the minimum wage, or the prevailing wage in other areas. 
By codifying a survey methodology, the commenter believed, the 
Department would restrict the SWAs' ability to use other methods to 
determine whether the job order is offering an ``adequate'' wage. 
According to the commenter, the current regulation protects U.S. 
workers, especially piece rate workers, who receive a higher wage rate 
than their peers in other parts of the State, as a result of collective 
bargaining or market conditions.
    After careful consideration of the commenter's concerns, the 
Department has decided to retain the NPRM proposal with minor 
clarifying changes. Specifically, this final rule adopts the NPRM's 
proposal to amend Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i) so that it incorporates the 
Department's revised prevailing wage survey methodology in Sec.  
655.120(c) and revised definition of ``prevailing wage'' in Sec.  
655.103(b). In addition, this final rule revises Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i) 
to more clearly distinguish the minimum requirements for wages and 
working conditions. The existing regulation addresses the minimum 
requirements for working conditions within the minimum requirements for 
wages, which may cause confusion as to the standards that apply to each 
requirement. Accordingly, this final rule separates these requirements 
into two different sentences to clarify that agricultural positions 
subject to 20 CFR part 653, subpart F, must, at a minimum, offer (1) 
the applicable prevailing wage or the applicable Federal or State 
minimum wage, whichever is higher, and (2) working conditions that are 
not less than the prevailing working conditions among similarly 
employed workers in the AIE. The standards governing the prevailing 
wage methodology are set forth in revised Sec. Sec.  655.103(b) and 
655.120(c), and addressed in the preamble to Sec.  655.120(c). The 
standards governing the wage rate an H-2A employer must offer, 
advertise in its recruitment, and pay are set forth in revised 
Sec. Sec.  655.120(a) and 655.122(l).
    The Department disagrees with the commenter that the above-
referenced revisions to Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i) will diminish the SWA's 
role in determining prevailing wages under the H-2A program. Under this 
final rule, SWAs will continue to follow the Department's criteria for 
prevailing wage surveys, either to conduct a survey itself or to select 
a survey conducted by another State agency to submit to the Department. 
Prior to this rule, the SWAs used ETA Handbook 385, which was last 
updated in 1981, and other sub-regulatory guidance to conduct such 
surveys and submit prevailing wage findings, when available, to the 
Department for review. In this sense, the Department has directed SWAs 
to use prevailing wage surveys to determine prevailing wage rates for 
agricultural job orders since at least 1981. The NPRM simply proposed 
to amend Sec. Sec.  655.103(b) and 653.501(c)(2)(i) to reflect the new 
proposed survey methodology at Sec.  655.120(c).
    Under the revised methodology, SWAs continue to play an active role 
in determining prevailing wages. They retain the discretion to develop, 
administer, and report the results of prevailing wage surveys to the 
Department, including the discretion to determine where to conduct 
surveys for particular crop or agricultural activities and, if 
applicable, distinct work task(s) within those activities, subject to 
the methodological requirements of this final rule. For example, SWAs 
may conduct prevailing wage surveys of State, sub-State, and regional 
geographic areas based on the factors listed in Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(vi). In instances where a non-SWA State entity conducts 
the prevailing wage survey, the SWA will review the survey and submit, 
if appropriate and as before, the applicable information to the 
Department.
    Moreover, prevailing wage surveys are but one method used to 
determine whether the wage offer in a job order for temporary 
agricultural work is ``adequate.'' Employers applying for H-2A 
temporary labor certification must generally offer in their job order 
and pay the highest of five wage sources (i.e., the AEWR, the 
prevailing wage, the agreed-upon collective bargaining wage, the 
Federal minimum wage, or the State minimum wage). See Sec.  655.120(a) 
(excluding certain employment). All other (non-H-2A) employers seeking 
to place interstate or intrastate job orders for temporary agricultural 
work must still pay the highest of the applicable prevailing wage or 
the applicable Federal or State minimum wage, as specified under this 
section.
    The commenter's assertion that the current regulation protects U.S. 
workers who enjoy a higher wage rate as a result of collective 
bargaining conflates the prevailing wage and the required wage for 
purposes of the H-2A program. As explained above, prevailing wage 
surveys are but one of the distinct wage sources the Department 
compares to

determine which wage source is the highest and therefore the wage that 
an H-2A employer must offer and pay. If an employer files an H-2A 
application for job opportunities subject to the agreed-upon collective 
bargaining wage, the collective bargaining wage would be evaluated as 
one of the applicable wage sources under Sec.  655.120(a). If the 
collective bargaining wage is the highest of available wage sources 
applicable to the H-2A application, the employer must offer and pay 
that wage to its H-2A workers and non-H-2A workers in corresponding 
employment. Similar principles hold for a non-H-2A interstate or 
intrastate agricultural job order, in which the prevailing wage may 
differ from the required wage a particular employer may be legally 
obligated to offer and pay. Section 653.501(c)(2)(i) provides a floor, 
rather than a ceiling, for the wage that must be offered in an 
interstate or intrastate job order for a temporary agricultural 
position. Employers may always offer wages that exceed the minimum 
required under this section, and in some instances, such as where an 
applicable collective bargaining agreement (CBA) requires a higher wage 
offer, they may be obligated to do so. However, the Department reminds 
H-2A employers that any job offer to U.S. workers must offer no less 
than the same benefits, wages, and working conditions that the employer 
is offering, intends to offer, or will provide to H-2A workers. Sec.  
655.122(a).
i. Successor in Interest
    The Department proposed conforming changes to the definition of 
``successor in interest'' consistent with proposed changes to 20 CFR 
655.182 and 29 CFR 501.20, which clarify that the Department may take 
action against an employer, agent, attorney, or combination thereof, 
for debarrable violations described under those sections. As discussed 
below, this provision remains unchanged from the NPRM. A workers' 
rights advocacy organization supported the conforming changes to the 
definition without further comment. An agent further proposed that the 
Department should modify the definition of successor in interest to 
formally adopt guidance issued under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule where the 
Department determined that the regulation could be reasonably 
interpreted to allow a temporary agricultural labor certification to be 
assumed by a successor employer. The commenter also thought the 
definition should be more generalized, rather than framed from an 
enforcement perspective. Although the Department appreciates this 
comment, further modification to the definition is unnecessary. The 
Department added agents and attorneys to the definition to clarify that 
successor in interest to agents and attorneys may be subject to 
enforcement actions, consistent with 20 CFR 655.182 and 29 CFR 501.20. 
In doing so, the Department made no change to the definition with 
regard to employers. The Department maintains its position, established 
in the supporting guidance, that a successor in interest entity may use 
a temporary agricultural labor certification issued, provided that it 
assumes all obligations, liabilities, and undertakings arising under 
the temporary agricultural labor certification. Therefore, this final 
rule adopts the proposed definition from the NPRM without change.
j. Additional Definitions Adopted in This Final Rule
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to the definition of Temporary 
Agricultural Labor Certification and proposed adding definitions of the 
following terms to provide greater clarity throughout the regulations: 
Act, Administrator, applicant, Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification, BALCA, Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), DHS, ETA, 
H-2A Petition, MSA, OFLC Administrator, piece rate, place of 
employment, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Homeland Security, U.S. 
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), WHD, and WHD 
Administrator. The Department received no comments on the proposed 
definitions of these terms. Therefore, this final rule adopts the 
definitions of these terms from the NPRM, with two minor changes. In 
this final rule, the Department simplifies the definition of ``USCIS'' 
to mean U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an operational 
component of DHS, while defining ``DHS'' as the Department of Homeland 
Security as established by sec. 111 of title 6, U.S. Code. The 
respective authorities and functions of DHS and USCIS, as an 
operational component of DHS, are set forth in their authorizing 
statutes, implementing regulations, and delegation of authorities.
k. 20 CFR 655.103(c) and 29 CFR 501.3(b), Definition of Agricultural 
Labor or Services
    The NPRM proposed amendments to expand the regulatory definition of 
agricultural labor or services pursuant to 8 U.S.C. 
1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a) to include reforestation and pine straw 
activities. The Department received many comments on this section and, 
for the reasons explained below, has decided to rescind the proposal to 
incorporate reforestation and pine straw activities into the definition 
of agricultural labor or services at Sec.  655.103(c). However, in 
proposing the occupational definitions for itinerant employment in 
animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom combining at Sec.  
655.301, subject to the proposed procedural variances contained in 
Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304, the Department has made a 
technical, conforming revision to this section to clarify that the job 
duties under Sec.  655.301 qualify for certification under the H-2A 
program.
    The Department proposed to define reforestation activities as 
predominantly manual forestry operations associated with developing, 
maintaining, or protecting forested areas, including, but not limited 
to, planting tree seedlings in specified patterns using manual tools, 
and felling, pruning, pre-commercial thinning, and removing trees and 
brush from forested areas. The proposed definition of reforestation 
activities would have included some forest fire prevention or 
suppression duties, when incidental to other reforestation activities, 
and would have excluded vegetation management activities in and around 
utility, highway, railroad, and other rights-of-way because these 
activities involve the destruction of vegetation, not cultivation. The 
NPRM proposed to define pine straw activities as operations associated 
with clearing the ground of underlying vegetation, pine cones, and 
debris; and raking, lifting, gathering, harvesting, baling, grading, 
and loading of pine straw for transport from pine forests, woodlands, 
pine stands, or plantations.
    In the NPRM, the Department reasoned that reforestation and pine 
straw activities share fundamental similarities with traditional 
agricultural industries, both in terms of activities performed and 
working conditions. These similarities had previously prompted the 
Department to consider similar proposals to include reforestation and 
pine straw activities within the H-2A program in the 2008 and 2009-2010 
rulemakings, but ultimately the Department rejected these proposals due 
to lack of stakeholder support. 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884; 2008 
H-2A NPRM, 73 FR 8538, 8555 (Feb. 13, 2008). The NPRM posited that many 
of the comments that led the Department to opt against expanding the 
definition of agriculture in the 2009-2010 rulemaking were no longer 
applicable due to recent regulatory changes in the H-2B program--
specifically the publication of the 2015 H-2B Interim Final Rule (IFR) 
(80 FR

24042, Apr. 29, 2015), which implemented cost-related requirements in 
the H-2B program similar to those currently found in H-2A.
Comments Related to the Inclusion of Reforestation and Pine Straw 
Gathering Activities in the H-2A Program
    Comments attributable to the reforestation industry or its 
representatives either opposed the change or did so absent significant 
changes to the proposal. Some industry commenters simply stated that 
the H-2A program, particularly with the changes proposed in the NPRM, 
was a less attractive, more costly, and more burdensome alternative to 
the H-2B program. Other commenters rejected the assertion that 
reforestation shared similar characteristics to traditional 
agricultural industries and stated that these differences resulted in 
the H-2A program, or certain key H-2A provisions, being essentially 
unworkable for the reforestation industry.
    Many industry commenters stated that the unpredictable nature of 
reforestation work precluded compliance with the H-2A program. Some 
commenters posited that the H-2A program was designed for workers 
returning to the same fields each year, whereas reforestation occurs on 
a rotating cycle of up to 30 years and is heavily weather-dependent. 
Industry commenters stated that the flexibility required for 
reforestation work presents difficulties in obtaining pre-inspected 
housing that complies with H-2A housing standards, and that it would be 
impossible at the time of the application to determine whether each 
potential motel along an itinerary would meet these standards. Another 
industry commenter stated that it would be impossible to make hotel 
reservations in advance as schedules are constantly changing. Some 
commenters also indicated that remote worksites require additional 
housing flexibility, such as tents or mobile housing.
    Industry commenters further stated that the unpredictable and 
transient nature of reforestation work would not allow employers to 
submit itineraries to the Department when applying for temporary labor 
certification, and that the requirement of a separate application per 
itinerary was unworkable and would dramatically increase filing costs. 
One commenter stated that some reforestation employers have more than 
30 crews working on 30 separate itineraries, and another commenter with 
35 crews on separate itineraries stated that its filing costs would 
increase from $8,500 for one application to $297,500 for 35 
applications.
    Similarly, many industry commenters stated that the reforestation 
industry would be unable to comply with the H-2A requirement to provide 
meals or kitchen facilities to workers. Commenters stated that motel 
accommodations for reforestation workers frequently lack kitchen 
facilities, and that the unpredictable nature of reforestation work 
means that arranging catering is logistically difficult. Some 
commenters stated that the workers cook for themselves at the 
worksites. One commenter may have misunderstood the H-2A meals 
requirement and stated that it could not provide meals and kitchen 
facilities (whereas only one or the other is required).
    Further, industry commenters opposed the proposed exclusion of 
utility right-of-way maintenance activities from the definition of 
reforestation activities. These commenters asserted that utility right-
of-way maintenance cannot be divorced from other reforestation 
activities because the same companies necessarily engage in both, and 
the activities are nearly identical. Commenters stated that a large 
number of forestry employers--including three of the top five H-2B 
employers overall--also perform utility right-of-way spraying, and 
these activities are included in the same contracts and have the same 
job duties as reforestation work. Another commenter stated that the 
exclusion of utility right-of-way work would bifurcate a successful 
business model historically used by the industry, and another stated 
that the two industries rely on the same workforce and separating them 
between visa classifications would harm both industries.
    The Department received significantly fewer comments from the pine 
straw industry. Three comments from the pine straw industry supported 
the proposal to include pine straw in the definition of agricultural 
labor or services for the reasons offered in the NPRM, one of which 
represented a letter-writing campaign with 100 identical comments. 
These comments emphasized that the pine straw industry is agricultural 
in nature and should be regulated as such under agricultural rules. 
Additionally, one commenter pointed out that many pine straw companies 
already use the H-2A program.
    Worker advocates opposed the proposal, primarily because the 
inclusion of the pine straw and reforestation industries in the H-2A 
program would remove nonimmigrant reforestation and pine straw workers' 
access to MSPA protections. These commenters identified access to the 
MSPA right to private action as an essential worker protection for H-2B 
workers engaged in reforestation and pine straw activities. Employee 
advocates also expressed concern that reforestation and pine straw 
employers would stop paying overtime to reforestation and pine straw 
workers due to a misunderstanding (as explained below) (either from the 
commenter itself or on the part of the employer) that H-2A employees 
are exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements simply by virtue of 
holding an H-2A visa. Some commenters also stated that the inclusion of 
reforestation within the uncapped H-2A program removes the numerical 
limitation on one of the largest users of the capped H-2B program and 
presents a substantial benefit to all H-2B employers by essentially 
providing H-2B cap relief.
    Commenters raised other concerns and objections to the inclusion of 
reforestation and pine straw activities in the H-2A program. Two 
commenters stated that the Department's rationale for the proposal was 
not justified and does not overcome objections raised in prior 
rulemakings to similar proposals. One commenter stated that costs for 
reforestation employers would increase because they would not be 
permitted to house four employees in the same hotel room under the H-2A 
standards. This same commenter also stated that reforestation employers 
would be unable to comply with the three-fourths guarantee due to the 
uncertainty inherent in reforestation work, that the Department is 
unable to enforce the H-2B inbound transportation standards in some 
States, and that the Department risked violating the permanent 
injunction entered under Bresgal v. Brock, 843 F.2d 1163 (9th Cir. 
1987).\31\ Two commenters representing State governments posited that 
inclusion of these industries in the H-2A program would increase work 
for SWAs and asked if additional funding would be provided. Another 
commenter advised that the Department and the Department of State (DOS) 
must be fully funded, particularly given any potential expansions to 
the H-2A program.
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    \31\ In Bresgal v. Brock, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals 
enjoined the Department to cease refusing to enforce MSPA as to 
recruiting, soliciting, hiring, employing, furnishing, or 
transporting any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker for all 
predominantly manual forestry work, including but not limited to 
tree planting, brush clearing, pre-commercial tree thinning, and 
forest firefighting.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comments from non-industry specific sources, including agents, 
State



governments, State farm bureaus and trade associations, tended to favor 
the proposal, albeit mostly in a generic and unsubstantiated way. Some 
comments expressed their support for any expansion of the H-2A program. 
One commenter representing the landscaping industry expressed support 
for the proposal because it would relieve pressure on the H-2B visa 
cap, and an insurance association supported the proposal because this 
expansion of H-2A would require more employers to obtain surety bonds. 
One State farm bureau, however, supported the proposal because the 
forest industry adds $6.4 billion annually in value to Arkansas' 
economy, and expanding the scope of the H-2A program would allow this 
industry to address labor shortages.
    Upon careful consideration of the comments submitted, the 
Department declines to adopt the proposal to include reforestation and 
pine straw activities within the H-2A program. As noted above, the 
Department had hypothesized in the NPRM that objections to similar 
proposals in previous rulemakings would no longer be considered 
relevant; however, this hypothesis was disproved by the multitude of 
comments in opposition. As was found in the 2009-2010 rulemaking, 
comments from or on behalf of those that would be most affected by the 
reforestation proposal (i.e., from the reforestation industry and 
employee advocates) overwhelmingly opposed the proposal, citing, in 
part, additional burdens due to the differences between the programs. 
While the pine straw industry submitted some comments supporting its 
inclusion in the H-2A program, the Department finds persuasive the 
concerns raised by employee advocates and accordingly declines to adopt 
the proposal with respect to pine straw as well. Additionally, as many 
commenters identified, pine straw employers are currently permitted use 
of the H-2A program (pursuant to the FLSA definition of agriculture and 
if the other requirements of the program are met) if the pine straw 
activities are performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or 
in conjunction with such farming activities. For example, employees 
engaged in the gathering of pine straw on a Christmas tree farm are 
engaged in H-2A agriculture if the Christmas trees are produced using 
extensive agricultural and horticultural techniques.\32\ Declining to 
adopt the proposal has no impact on employers seeking workers to 
perform pine straw gathering under these circumstances, and such 
employers may continue to use the H-2A program. On the other hand, pine 
straw gathering that is not performed by a farmer or on a farm (e.g., 
that occurs in wild or uncultivated forests, in forest tree nurseries, 
or on timber tracts, or that is performed in conjunction with 
commercial landscaping activities) does not constitute agricultural 
labor or services; employers seeking temporary foreign workers to 
perform pine straw activities under these circumstances may continue to 
use the H-2B program.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \32\ These techniques include activities such as planting 
seedlings in a nursery; ongoing treatment with fertilizer, 
herbicides, and pesticides as necessary; replanting in line-out beds 
or in cultivated soil; yearly pruning or shearing; and harvesting 
for ornamental use. See 29 CFR 780.216(b).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Though not within the scope of this rulemaking, the Department also 
wants to take this opportunity to address comments raising concerns 
about the current state of working conditions for H-2B reforestation 
workers. When commenters indicate that they cannot reasonably provide 
meals or kitchen facilities to reforestation workers because the 
worksites are too remote and conditions too uncertain, the Department 
cannot ignore the implication that some reforestation workers may not 
currently have access to sufficient food and/or facilities to prepare 
food. Itinerant workers constitute a vulnerable population; these 
workers are frequently wholly dependent on their employer for housing 
and transportation, work in remote areas far removed from services, and 
may not be fully aware of their geographic location. The Department 
reminds employers of itinerant workers not using the H-2A program that 
they should, at the very least, facilitate access to food and/or 
kitchen facilities by ensuring that workers have sufficient time and 
available transportation options to access grocery stores/cooking 
facilities, and/or prepared meals.
    In response to concerns expressed by commenters that some 
reforestation employers using the H-2B program may not provide full-
time job opportunities and may not pay for inbound transportation, the 
Department reminds the public that such legal requirements are already 
in place. An H-2B job opportunity must be for full-time work, defined 
as 35 hours of work per week, and the FLSA applies independently of the 
H-2B program's requirements. Specifically, the Fifth Circuit's decision 
in Castellanos-Contreras v. Decatur Hotels, LLC, 622 F.3d 393 (5th Cir. 
2010), affects an employer's responsibility for inbound transportation 
costs under the FLSA in that Circuit, but does not affect an employer's 
inbound transportation obligations pursuant to the H-2B program 
regulations, nor does it affect the Department's ability to enforce 
those obligations. See 20 CFR 655.20(d); 20 CFR 655.5; 29 CFR 
503.16(d); 29 CFR 503.4; 20 CFR 655.20(j)(1)(i); and 29 CFR 
503.16(j)(1)(i).
Other Comments Requesting the Inclusion or Exclusion of Certain 
Agricultural Activities or Industries in the H-2A Program
    The Department received many comments in this section that did not 
address the specific proposal relating to reforestation and pine straw, 
but rather suggested modifications to the scope of the H-2A program to 
include or exclude other activities or industries. As discussed below, 
the Department is not adopting these suggested modifications to the 
definition of agricultural labor or services.
    These commenters sought to expand the H-2A program to include all 
employment in packing houses or processing facilities that pack, 
process, or handle agricultural or horticultural commodities, even if, 
for example, more than half of the commodities are produced by other 
growers. Commenters stated that this division between packing houses 
based solely on the producer of the commodity is outdated and 
inequitable, because some packing houses have access to the H-2A 
program whereas others conducting identical activities do not. 
Commenters stated that all packing houses experience the same shortage 
of labor, regardless of the producer of the products, and the nature of 
the H-2B program is inadequate to address the packing house's needs, 
both in terms of the number of workers available under the program and 
certification processing timelines. Multiple commenters suggested an 
expansive definition of agricultural labor or services encompassing 
packing houses and processing facilities.
    Many commenters stated that the H-2A program should encompass all 
transporting of an agricultural commodity to a facility for preparation 
to market, regardless of who produced the commodity or where the 
transportation occurs. Several commenters stated that harvesting is not 
complete until the product arrives at the packing facility or place of 
first processing, and the transportation to the place of first 
processing is an essential component of harvesting. Others stated that 
a contractor transporting agricultural or horticultural products is



essentially working for, or acting in the place of, the grower that 
produced those products, and thus is engaged in agricultural work. Many 
commenters referenced a critical shortage of truck drivers willing, 
qualified, and available to transport crops (particularly within the 
shorter season inherent in agriculture), and noted that many growers do 
not have the means to perform these transportation services themselves. 
The expansive definition submitted by multiple commenters similarly 
addressed this issue by suggesting inclusion of the following: the 
transportation of any agricultural or horticultural product in its 
unmanufactured state by any person from the farm to a storage facility, 
to market, or to any place of handling, planting, drying, packing, 
packaging, processing, freezing, or grading such as a packing house, a 
processing establishment, a gin, a seed conditioning facility, a mill, 
or a grain elevator; and the handling, planting, drying, packing, 
packaging, processing, freezing, or grading by any person of any 
agricultural or horticultural commodity in its unmanufactured state.
    Some commenters sought the explicit inclusion of specific 
industries in the definition of agriculture or more generally in the H-
2A program. Some commenters requested that the H-2A program encompass 
work in seafood cultivation, harvesting, and processing due to the 
industry's connection to food production and its difficulty in meeting 
its labor needs using a domestic workforce and the capped H-2B program. 
One commenter requested that the definition explicitly incorporate 
activities related to the care and feeding of horses and suggested it 
should incorporate grooms, stable-hands, exercise riders, and general 
caretakers, regardless of where the work is performed. A different 
commenter sought the inclusion of all agribusinesses, including 
agricultural retailers, in the program. Some commenters stated that all 
aspects of the ginning of cotton, including the related transportation 
from the field to the gin, are agricultural. A trade association 
representing the landscaping industry suggested the reclassification of 
several other industries currently within the H-2B program to reduce 
pressure on the H-2B visa cap.
    Some commenters stated that specific industries, or employers in 
general, should have the flexibility to use either the H-2A or H-2B 
program depending on their specific needs. Some commenters opined that 
employers have the expertise to know which program best meets their 
needs, whereas others stated that their industry was sufficiently 
diverse to require participation in both the H-2A and H-2B programs.
    One commenter sought to exclude activities from the program that 
are currently performed by H-2A workers. Specifically, this commenter 
suggested that work in constructing livestock buildings on farms, when 
the worker is not employed by the farmer, should not be permitted in 
the H-2A program because the work is, generally, non-agricultural.
    To the extent that commenters suggested amendments to the 
definitions of agricultural labor under sec. 3121(g) of the Internal 
Revenue Code (IRC) and agriculture under sec. 3(f) of the FLSA, these 
suggestions are outside the scope of this rulemaking as well as beyond 
the Department's statutory authority under the H-2A program. Congress 
defined these terms in their respective statutes and expressly 
incorporated these definitions into sec. 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a) of the 
INA. Any ability to amend these definitions, or their incorporation in 
the INA, also lies with Congress. Similarly, the Department is unable 
to reinterpret these statutory definitions solely within the context of 
the INA; the Department is constrained by pre-existing interpretations 
of these definitions within their respective statutes, including their 
implementing regulations, sub-regulatory guidance, and resulting case 
law. As a result, the Department cannot edit or limit these definitions 
in this rulemaking, such as by removing the 50-percent threshold from 
the IRC definition of agricultural labor; reinterpreting the phrase 
``in the employ of the operator of a farm''; or excluding all 
construction occupations from the H-2A program because, in specific 
circumstances, construction work may constitute agricultural labor or 
services within one of the statutory definitions. In addition, the 
Department notes that it defers to the Department of the Treasury's 
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for interpretation of the IRC.
    The Department has carefully considered all comments requesting 
that the Secretary use his statutory authority to define additional 
activities and/or industries as agricultural labor or services, and 
respectfully declines to make further revisions to this definition 
beyond the technical or conforming revisions discussed above. These 
comments did not respond to proposals made in the NPRM, nor did the 
Department propose or invite comment on possible additions to the 
definition of agricultural labor or services beyond the proposal to add 
reforestation and pine straw activities. All affected parties could not 
reasonably expect that the Department was contemplating and seeking 
comment on potential additions other than reforestation and pine straw 
activities, and thus, the public has not been fully afforded the 
opportunity to consider and respond to the potential inclusion of these 
activities and/or industries in the H-2A program.
    Many comments received in response to the NPRM, as well as in 
previous rulemakings, illustrate that some employers perceive 
significant advantages in participating in the H-2B program as opposed 
to the H-2A program, and vice versa, depending on the labor demands of 
the specific industries who commented. Additionally, nearly all 
comments regarding additional expansions to the H-2A program originated 
from employers and their representatives, with minimal input from other 
affected parties, further suggesting that all parties could not 
reasonably have thought to comment on the proposals to expand the 
definition beyond the additions proposed in the NPRM. Consequently, the 
Department is disinclined to further expand the definition of 
agricultural labor or services in this rulemaking.
    The Department also declines to adopt the suggestion that employers 
be afforded the discretion to choose participation in either the H-2A 
or H-2B program. As previously explained in the preamble to the 2010 H-
2A Final Rule, Congress clearly intended to create two separate 
programs: H-2A for agricultural work and H-2B for other, non-
agricultural work. Compare 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a) with 8 U.S.C. 
1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b). 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6888. Allowing 
employers the discretion to use either program based on their 
individual preferences erases any meaningful distinction between the 
two programs and is inconsistent with congressional intent. However, as 
some commenters identified, certain industries necessarily will use 
both the H-2A and H-2B programs depending on the specific activities 
being performed. For example, the grooming and exercise riding of 
horses at a racetrack in connection with commercial racing is non-
agricultural, whereas the care and feeding of those horses on a farm is 
agricultural work.\33\
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    \33\ Employees engaged in the breeding, raising, and training of 
horses on farms for racing purposes are agricultural employees as 
defined by the FLSA. On the other hand, employees engaged in the 
racing, training, and care of horses and other activities performed 
off the farm in connection with commercial racing are not employed 
in agriculture. For these purposes, a training track at a racetrack 
is not a farm. See 29 CFR 780.122.

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Other Comments Requesting Expansion of the H-2A Program for Year-Round 
Employment in Agriculture
    Many commenters requested that the scope of the H-2A program be 
expanded to include all job opportunities in certain industries, 
regardless of whether the opportunity is seasonal or temporary, 
including dairy, mushroom, poultry, livestock, aquaculture, and indoor 
nursery/greenhouse farming. Commenters emphasized that these industries 
encounter the same labor shortages as other agricultural industries, 
and that the limitation of the H-2A program to seasonal and temporary 
agricultural work is fundamentally inequitable and ignores the 
realities faced by year-round agriculture. Of the industries submitting 
comments, commenters representing the dairy industry noted particular 
concerns with difficulties in obtaining and retaining a sufficient 
workforce, and proposed solutions such as allowing for year-round visas 
and cycling different short-term H-2A workers through employment in a 
given year so that a series of workers on temporary visas could satisfy 
the employer's permanent need. Other commenters stated that there was 
no statutory basis for allowing herders to be employed for 364 days in 
a year while not allowing the same for other industries.
    The Department received nearly identical comments in response to 
the 2008 and 2009-2010 rulemakings. In response to current comments, 
the Department reiterates that it must consider each employer's 
specific job opportunity on a case-by-case basis and its program 
experience has consistently shown that the majority of activities in 
these industries are year-round and therefore cannot be classified as 
either temporary or seasonal as required under the H-2A regulations and 
the INA, and not because they are non-agricultural. While the 
Department recognizes the workforce challenges encountered by various 
agricultural industries, it is limited by the INA to certifying H-2A 
applications for jobs of a temporary or seasonal nature. As stated in 
the preamble to the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, the determination as to 
whether a particular activity is eligible for H-2A certification rests 
on a finding that the duration of the activity or the need for that 
activity is temporary or seasonal. Permanent job opportunities cannot 
be classified as temporary or seasonal. 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 
6884, 6890-6891. Instead, employers that cannot find U.S. workers to 
fill permanent rather than temporary or seasonal jobs may wish to 
petition for workers under employment-based immigrant visa programs. 
See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. 1153(b)(3); see also 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a) 
(INA permits only ``agricultural labor or services . . . of a temporary 
or seasonal nature'' to be performed under the H-2A visa category). 
Finally, with regard to comments above related to the period of need 
for herders, the Department recently rescinded, in the separate 2021 H-
2A Herder Final Rule, the 364-day provision that governed the 
adjudication of temporary need for employers of sheep and goat herders 
(Sec.  655.215(b)(2)) to ensure the Department's adjudication of 
temporary or seasonal need is conducted in the same manner for all H-2A 
applications.
Other Comments Related to the Requirements for Overtime Pay Under the 
FLSA
    Some commenters expressed concerns about or requested clarification 
of the requirement for overtime pay under the FLSA to H-2A workers. One 
commenter said that some employers incorrectly assume that H-2A workers 
are always exempt from the FLSA overtime requirement, and another 
commenter made this same incorrect assumption in its comment. Other 
commenters stated that the classification of certain industries and 
activities as agricultural under one Act and non-agricultural under 
another was confusing, and that the reclassification of pine straw 
activities as agricultural under the INA would simplify compliance. 
Another commenter suggested a regulatory clarification that 
construction labor performed on a farm for an independent contractor, 
as opposed to for the farm operator, is not agricultural employment for 
the purposes of the FLSA, and that employees providing such services 
are entitled to overtime pay.
    In light of these comments, the Department reiterates that the FLSA 
applies independently of the H-2A program. H-2A workers are not exempt 
from overtime pay under the FLSA simply by virtue of holding an H-2A 
visa, nor are workers engaged in corresponding employment with H-2A 
workers exempt from FLSA overtime pay simply because they are so 
engaged. The FLSA exempts employees employed in agriculture, as defined 
in sec. 3(f) of that same Act, from overtime pay (and, in more limited 
circumstances, from the Federal minimum wage) in any workweek that the 
worker is employed solely in agriculture. See FLSA sec. 13(a)(6) and 
(b)(12), 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(6) and (12). However, the INA defines 
agriculture more broadly than the FLSA and, consequently, some H-2A 
workers are employed in activities that do not constitute FLSA 
agriculture and thus are entitled to FLSA overtime pay. For example, H-
2A workers employed by a farmer are exempt from FLSA overtime in any 
workweek in which they are engaged in packing fruit grown exclusively 
by that same farmer. However, if during a given workweek these same H-
2A workers, in addition to packing fruit grown by their employer also 
pack fruit grown by another farmer, they are entitled to FLSA overtime 
pay in that workweek.\34\ Because the H-2A program's definition of 
agricultural labor or services is broader than the FLSA definition of 
agriculture (i.e., it encompasses activities that constitute 
agricultural labor under the IRC, as well as logging and pressing of 
apples for cider on a farm), workers may be engaged in agricultural 
labor for H-2A program purposes but exempt or nonexempt from FLSA 
overtime in any particular workweek depending on their activities 
during that period. The Department encourages employers to consult the 
FLSA regulations at 29 CFR part 780 to determine if employees are 
entitled to FLSA overtime, and to consult applicable State and local 
laws, which may impose overtime or other wage requirements.
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    \34\ As defined by the FLSA, packing, processing, and 
transporting agricultural or horticultural commodities do not 
constitute agricultural employment unless these activities are 
performed by a farmer or on a farm as incident to or in conjunction 
with such farming activities (i.e., the farming activities of the 
farm or farmer). The packing, processing, or transporting of fruit 
produced by a different grower is performed as incident to or in 
conjunction with the farming activities of the farmer that produced 
the fruit, not the employer, and thus is outside the scope of the 
exemption from FLSA overtime pay. See generally 29 CFR part 780, 
subparts A, B, and C; Sec. Sec.  780.137 and 780.138. FLSA 
exemptions are determined on a workweek basis, and an employee 
performing exempt work (i.e., packing, processing, and transporting 
the employer's own fruit) and nonexempt work (i.e., packing, 
processing, and transporting the fruit produced by a different 
grower) in the same workweek is entitled to overtime pay in that 
particular workweek. See Sec. Sec.  780.10 and 780.11.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Reforestation and pine straw activities, as defined in the NPRM, 
similarly do not constitute FLSA agriculture unless performed by a 
farmer or on a farm as incident to or in conjunction with such farming 
activities, and employees engaged in these activities are frequently 
entitled to FLSA overtime pay.
    One commenter opined that construction labor performed by an 
independent contractor on a farm never



constitutes FLSA agriculture. The Department notes that construction 
labor may constitute FLSA agriculture when performed by a farmer or on 
a farm as incident to or in conjunction with such farming activities.
Minor Revisions Incorporating Occupational Definitions for Animal 
Shearing, Commercial Beekeeping, and Custom Combining in the H-2A 
Program
    In proposing the occupational definitions for itinerant employment 
in animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom combining at 20 
CFR 655.301, the Department acknowledged in the NPRM that some of the 
listed activities may not otherwise constitute agricultural work under 
the current definition of agricultural labor or services in Sec.  
655.103(c), but are a necessary part of performing this work on an 
itinerary. See 84 FR 36168, 36222. Accordingly, and solely for the 
purposes of the proposed variances in Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 
655.304, the Department explained that it would include these 
activities in the occupational definitions. Id. The Department did not 
receive any comments on this aspect of its proposal. However, because 
only duties that fall within the definition of agricultural labor or 
services under Sec.  655.103(c) may be certified under the H-2A 
program, and to clarify that the activities set forth under the 
definitions for animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom 
combining in Sec.  655.301 qualify for certification under the H-2A 
program, the Department is making a technical, conforming revision to 
Sec.  655.103(c). Under new Sec.  655.103(c)(5), the Department 
expressly states that, for the purposes of Sec.  655.103(c), 
agricultural labor or services includes animal shearing, commercial 
beekeeping, and custom combining activities as defined and specified in 
Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304. Additionally, this final rule 
incorporates the minor technical changes to correct the internal 
citations from paragraphs (c)(1)(iv) and (v) to now read paragraphs 
(c)(1)(i)(D) and (E), respectively, in Sec.  655.103(c)(1)(i)(E) and 
(F).
l. 20 CFR 655.103(d) and 29 CFR 501.3(c), Definition of a Temporary or 
Seasonal Nature
    The NPRM sought public comments to inform a decision whether to 
retain the current, two-arbiter model in which both the Department and 
DHS evaluate temporary or seasonal need during their sequential review 
processes, or to move the adjudication of an employer's temporary or 
seasonal need either exclusively to DHS or exclusively to DOL. The 
Department solicited input from the public on this idea as a way to 
eliminate duplication of agency reviews. The Department received many 
comments on this idea and, for the reasons explained below, has decided 
to retain at present the current two-arbiter model of DHS and DOL 
sequentially adjudicating an employer's temporary or seasonal need.
    The INA grants DHS broad authority to determine whether to admit 
temporary workers as H-2A nonimmigrants based on an employer's 
petition, in consultation with appropriate Federal agencies, and 
further defines an H-2A nonimmigrant as an individual coming 
temporarily to the United States to perform agricultural labor or 
services ``of a temporary or seasonal nature.'' 8 U.S.C. 
1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a), 1184(c)(1), and 1188. Pursuant to the INA and 
implementing regulations promulgated by the Department and DHS, the 
Department evaluates an employer's need for agricultural labor or 
services to determine whether it is seasonal or temporary during the 
review of an Application for Temporary Employment Certification. 20 CFR 
655.161(a); 8 CFR 214.2(h)(5)(i)(A) and (h)(5)(iv). In order to promote 
greater consistency and reduce stakeholder confusion concerning the 
definition of temporary or seasonal need, the Department adopted the 
DHS definition in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule. See 75 FR 6884, 6890. 
Compare 20 CFR 655.103(d) with 8 CFR 214.2(h)(5)(iv)(A).
    Through its longstanding review of the nature of an employer's need 
as part of its review of an Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification, such as examining the period of employment identified on 
the H-2A application and the nature of the employer's need for 
agricultural labor or services, inclusive of the job duties, 
qualifications and requirements, and geographic locations where work 
will be performed, the Department has developed expertise and a process 
for determining temporary or seasonal need to which H-2A employers have 
become accustomed. In addition, DHS regulations state that an H-2A 
petition must establish, among other things, that the ``employment 
proposed in the certification is of a temporary or seasonal nature'' 
and that the Department's finding that employment is of a temporary or 
seasonal nature during review of the Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification is ``normally sufficient'' for the purpose of 
an H-2A Petition. 8 CFR 214.2(h)(5)(iv). Under current practice, if the 
Department issues a temporary agricultural labor certification and the 
employer files an H-2A Petition, DHS may reevaluate and adjudicate the 
employer's temporary or seasonal need using the same definition or may 
defer to the Department's finding.
    Many commenters supported eliminating the two-arbiter model, with 
most identifying the Department as the preferred sole arbiter. These 
commenters argued that retaining both arbiters creates uncertainty, 
inconsistency, and redundancy with harm to farmers, including crop loss 
as a result of the time lost should DHS reach a different, adverse 
decision later in the process than the Department. Most of the 
commenters who favored a single-arbiter model supported the Department 
as the sole arbiter. Some commenters urged the Department to consider a 
new arbiter of temporary or seasonal need, namely the U.S. Department 
of Agriculture (USDA). Included among these commenters who suggested 
USDA were several trade associations, a couple of agents, and a State 
government agency who named the Department as their second choice after 
USDA. Two other commenters, a trade association, and a State government 
agency suggested that the Department perform the role over DHS but with 
increased consultation with USDA. However, in the NPRM, the Department 
only sought public comment on the potential for only DHS, or only DOL, 
to serve as a sole arbiter. The Department did not propose or seek 
comment for an agency other than the Department or DHS to perform this 
role.
    Those commenters who favored the Department as the adjudicating 
authority for temporary or seasonal need, as opposed to DHS, noted the 
Department's expertise and greater comparative familiarity with the H-
2A program. Commenters also valued the Department's position in the 
petition process relative to DHS, as employers are able to make 
adjustments earlier should questions regarding temporary or seasonal 
need arise and before incurring additional expenses associated with 
filing an H-2A Petition with DHS.
    Several commenters, including an agent, an employer, and a trade 
association, did not express a position regarding whether the 
Department or DHS should be the sole arbiter but instead noted the 
importance of the Department and DHS having congruent definitions of 
whether employment is of a temporary or seasonal nature. Similarly, 
another agent did not clearly express an opinion about whether there 
should be a sole arbiter of temporary or seasonal need but stated that 
DHS should continue to hold decision-



making authority with respect to the temporary and seasonal 
requirements.
    The Department appreciates the variety of public comment on this 
proposal. After careful consideration of the comments received, the 
Department has determined, that it will not at this time be making such 
a substantial change to the program.\35\ Therefore, this final rule 
retains the current two-arbiter model of DHS and DOL both sequentially 
evaluating an employer's temporary or seasonal need.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \35\ The January 2021 draft final rule indicated the 
Departments' intent for DOL to serve as the sole arbiter of 
temporary or seasonal need through a prospective delegation of 
authority from DHS as well as a separate regulatory action to amend 
DHS's related regulations. However, the January 2021 draft final 
rule was not published and never took effect. Accordingly, any 
statements contained therein do not represent the Department's 
formal policy; and, similarly, they do not, and may not be relied 
upon to, create or confer any right or benefit, substantive or 
procedural, enforceable at law or equity by any individual or other 
party. As explained elsewhere in this rule, the Federal Register and 
the Code of Federal Regulations remain the official sources for 
regulatory information published by the Department.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department received additional comments regarding the 
definition of a temporary or seasonal nature at 20 CFR 655.103(d) and 
29 CFR 501.3(c). Many of these commenters urged the Department to 
include year-round work, particularly in the dairy industry. As the 
Department only sought public comment on determining whether the 
Department or DHS should act as the sole arbiter of temporary or 
seasonal need, such comments are outside the scope of this rulemaking.

B. Pre-Filing Procedures

1. Section 655.120, Offered Wage Rate
    The statute provides that an H-2A worker is admissible only if the 
Secretary determines that ``there are not sufficient workers who are 
able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and 
place needed, to perform the labor or services involved in the 
petition, and the employment of the alien in such labor or services 
will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers 
in the United States similarly employed.'' See 8 U.S.C. 1188(a)(1). In 
20 CFR 655.120(a), the Department currently meets this statutory 
requirement, in part, by requiring an employer to offer, advertise in 
its recruitment, and pay a wage that is the highest of the AEWR, the 
prevailing wage, the agreed-upon collective bargaining wage, the 
Federal minimum wage, or the State minimum wage. The Department 
proposed in the NPRM to maintain this wage-setting structure with only 
minor revisions and modify the methodologies by which the Department 
establishes the AEWR and prevailing wages.
    Prior to this final rule, the Department engaged in rulemaking to 
revise the methodology for establishing the AEWR that addressed the 
Department's proposals at paragraphs (b)(1), (2), and (5) of the NPRM, 
as well as the definition of AEWR in Sec.  655.103(b). See 85 FR 70445. 
Most recently, the Department issued an NPRM on December 1, 2021, which 
proposed to revise the methodology for establishing the AEWR. 86 FR 
68174. The comment period for the 2021 H-2A AEWR NPRM closed on January 
31, 2022, and the Department will address those comments in a separate 
rulemaking. This final rule addresses all other aspects of the 
Department's proposals at Sec.  655.120--specifically, paragraphs (a), 
(b)(3) and (4), (c), and (d). In addition, the Department reinstates 
the 2010 H-2A Final Rule's method and schedule for updating the AEWR at 
paragraph (b)(2), which is necessary due to vacatur of the 2020 H-2A 
AEWR Final Rule, as discussed in the preamble to the definition of AEWR 
at Sec.  655.103(b).
    The Department received many general comments related to H-2A labor 
costs and wage requirements, some claiming that wage requirements are 
too high and others stating that wage requirements are too low. To the 
extent those comments raised specific concerns or suggestions, they are 
discussed below.
a. The Department Retains the Requirement That the Offered Wage Rate 
Must Be the Highest of the Available Wage Sources
    The Department protects against adverse effect on the wages of 
workers in the United States similarly employed by requiring, at Sec.  
655.120(a), that an employer must offer, advertise in its recruitment, 
and pay a wage that is the highest of the AEWR, the prevailing wage, 
the agreed-upon collective bargaining wage, the Federal minimum wage, 
or the State minimum wage, unless the occupation is subject to an 
alternative wage rate structure. The Department proposed three minor 
changes to paragraph (a). As discussed below, this final rule adopts 
the proposed language from the NPRM with minor conforming changes.
    First, the Department proposed to replace the current regulatory 
provision that provides an exception for separate wage rates set by 
``special procedures'' (i.e., sub-regulatory variances from the 
regulation) and instead include a specific reference to the regulatory 
provisions covering job opportunities in the herding and production of 
livestock on the range under Sec. Sec.  655.200 through 655.235. 
Applications to obtain labor certifications to hire temporary 
agricultural foreign workers to perform herding or production of 
livestock on the range, as defined in Sec.  655.201, are subject to the 
wage rate structure at Sec.  655.211 and are the only exception to the 
wage methodology set forth in this final rule at Sec.  655.120. 
Further, as discussed above, the Department has removed the authority 
in Sec.  655.102 to establish, continue, revise, or revoke ``special 
procedures'' for H-2A occupations. The Department received comments 
requesting that it address herder wages, including a State law 
involving overtime pay for herders; however, these comments are outside 
the scope of this rulemaking. The Department explicitly stated in the 
NPRM that it was not reconsidering the herder wage rate methodology. 84 
FR 36168, 36220-36221.
    Second, the Department proposed to replace the ``prevailing hourly 
wage or piece rate'' with ``prevailing wage rate'' in recognition of 
the fact that the Department has issued prevailing wage rates that are 
not in the form of an ``hourly'' or ``piece'' rate wages, including, 
for example, ``monthly'' prevailing wage rates.\36\ An employer 
suggested the Department, instead, replace ``prevailing hourly rate or 
piece rate'' with ``prevailing guaranteed hourly rate'' and use the 
hourly guarantee alone to protect against adverse effect on the 
domestic workforce. The commenter explained that such an approach would 
protect wages without limiting employers' flexibility to reward 
productive workers through a piece rate or another incentive-based 
system. The Department declines to adopt the suggested language. To the 
extent the commenter seeks an hourly guarantee protection for workers 
in the event an employer uses incentive pay or piece rate, the 
regulation already provides hourly rate protection at Sec.  
655.122(l)(1) and (2); and, to the extent the commenter seeks to 
eliminate piece rate PWDs, such a suggestion is beyond the scope of 
this rulemaking. Further, the Department does not limit an employer's 
flexibility to offer wages exceeding the minimum required wage.
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    \36\ The Department also makes corresponding changes throughout 
the regulation, replacing ``the prevailing hourly wage or piece 
rate'' with ``prevailing wage'' or ``prevailing wage rate,'' except 
where a given provision specifically applies only to prevailing 
piece rates.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Third, the Department proposed to clarify that the requirement to 
offer and pay at least the prevailing wage rate applies only ``if the 
OFLC Administrator



has approved a prevailing wage survey for the applicable crop activity 
or agricultural activity meeting the requirements of paragraph (c)'' of 
Sec.  655.120.\37\ In the event there is no prevailing wage finding 
applicable to an employer's job opportunity, the employer's wage 
obligation is the highest of the other four applicable wage sources 
listed in paragraph (a). An employer that supported this proposal asked 
the Department to clarify that the OFLC Administrator must review the 
survey for compliance with prevailing wage methodology requirements, 
asserting that underlying documentation may have been lacking in the 
past. The Department appreciates this concern and notes that survey 
documentation demonstrating compliance with methodological requirements 
must be attached to the updated prevailing wage survey collection 
(i.e., Form ETA-232) at the time of submission to the OFLC 
Administrator. See Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(i).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \37\ The Department also makes a corresponding change to Sec.  
655.122(l).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department received many comments from workers' rights advocacy 
organizations that asserted the Department is required to determine a 
prevailing wage in all cases. These commenters expressed concern that 
the Department proposed to eliminate this ``requirement,'' and, by 
doing so, would permit employers to offer below-market wage rates in 
areas where a survey, if conducted, would produce a higher rate than 
the other wage sources. The Department reiterates that this final rule 
does not eliminate an existing requirement; rather, the revised 
language clarifies existing policy and practice. State-conducted 
prevailing wage surveys are another source of information that can 
provide protections for workers who are engaged in specific crop or 
agricultural activities offering piece rate pay or higher hourly rates 
of pay than the applicable AEWR in a geographic area. However, where 
the crop or agricultural activities in a geographic area are paid at 
hourly rates lower than the AEWR, a State-conducted prevailing wage 
survey would not protect wages from adverse effect; the AEWR does. The 
AEWR will continue to serve as a wage floor that prevents localized 
wage stagnation or depression in areas and occupations in which 
employers desire to employ H-2A workers. Neither the statute nor the 
Department's H-2A program regulations require the Department to 
determine a prevailing wage rate in all cases, and the Department's 
regulations and guidance have contemplated that there are situations in 
which the wage sources listed in Sec.  655.120(a) may be unavailable or 
inapplicable, as reflected in past practice.\38\ As explained in the 
NPRM, the Department primarily meets its obligation to protect against 
adverse effect on the wages of workers in the United States similarly 
employed by requiring employers to offer, advertise, and pay at least 
the AEWR. 84 FR 36168, 36179. As such, requiring SWAs to conduct 
prevailing wage surveys for every crop and agricultural activity in 
every area within their jurisdiction is unnecessary to prevent adverse 
effect. However, the Department agrees that prevailing wage rates, 
under the PWD methodology adopted in this final rule at Sec.  
655.120(c), can provide additional safeguards. The Department will 
continue to issue PWDs based on information that is as reliable and 
representative as possible concerning the average wages of U.S. workers 
in a crop or agricultural activity and distinct work task(s) within 
that activity, if applicable, for a particular geographic region. As 
explained below, this final rule modernizes the PWD methodology and 
empowers States to produce a greater number of reliable prevailing wage 
rates, which the OFLC Administrator may approve under the requirements 
of Sec.  655.120(c).
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    \38\ See, e.g., AFL-CIO, et al, v. Dole, et al., 923 F.2d 182, 
185 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (noting Congress did not ``define adverse 
effect and left it in the Department's discretion how to ensure that 
the importation of farmworkers met the statutory requirements'' and 
that the Department's chosen methodology to prevent adverse effect 
is ``a policy decision taken within the bounds of a rather broad 
congressional delegation''); Sec.  655.122(l)(1) (``any agreed-upon 
collective bargaining rate''); 1987 H-2A IFR, 52 FR 20496, 20502 
(June 1, 1987) (noting H-2A workers ``must be paid at the highest of 
the applicable wage rates''); 2008 H-2A Final Rule, 73 FR 77110, 
77115 (Dec. 18, 2008) (``the highest of the AEWR, prevailing wage, 
or minimum wage, as applicable''); 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 
6947 (``some [S]tates do not perform prevailing wage surveys''); ETA 
Handbook 385 at I-115 (``Should a survey not result in a prevailing 
wage rate finding, another survey should be made at the earliest 
appropriate time.'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department also received comments that suggested the Department 
should stop requiring H-2A employers to offer and pay the highest of 
the sources listed in paragraph (a) and use a different wage-setting 
standard instead. Two employers recommended the Department set the H-2A 
wage rate at the current Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, while 
a trade association suggested the Department use the minimum wage 
adjusted annually using the Consumer Price Index (CPI). A trade 
association recommended the PWD, if available, should be used to set 
the H-2A wage requirement, even if that wage rate is lower than the 
AEWR, as it is the most accurate measure of the prevailing wage for 
that specific crop activity in that specific area. A public policy 
organization recommended the Department allow employers to pay H-2A 
workers less than the AEWR and prevailing wage rate, provided that U.S. 
workers receive five percent more than the highest of those two rates. 
These comments are outside the scope of the Department's proposed 
modifications to paragraph (a).
    After consideration of the comments, the Department adopts the 
proposed language with two minor revisions. First, the Department has 
revised Sec.  655.120(a) to clarify that an employer must offer and 
pay, at a minimum, the highest of the enumerated wage sources, but may 
choose to offer and pay a higher rate. Second, the Department has 
revised Sec.  655.120(a)(2) to align with language regarding prevailing 
wages at Sec.  655.120(c). As discussed further in the preamble to 
Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(iii), the revised language in this paragraph 
recognizes that there may be a prevailing wage for a distinct work task 
or tasks within a crop or agricultural activity in certain situations.
b. AEWR Determinations
    This final rule covers the Department's proposals at paragraphs 
(b)(3) and (4) of Sec.  655.120, which the Department reserved when 
addressing paragraphs (b)(1), (2), and (5) in a separate rulemaking 
(i.e., the 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule). As explained above in the 
preamble to the definition of AEWR at Sec.  655.103(b), the 2020 H-2A 
AEWR Final Rule was vacated, leaving the 2010 H-2A Final Rule in its 
place. For the same reasons as noted in the preamble to the AEWR 
definition, the Department is implementing the court's vacatur of the 
2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule in this final rule by removing from the CFR 
the regulatory text that the Department promulgated through that 
rulemaking at Sec.  655.120(b)(1), (2), and (5), thereby restoring the 
regulatory text to appear as it did before the effective date of the 
2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule, subject to the changes noted in this 
section. The Department has good cause to bypass otherwise applicable 
requirements of notice and comment and a delayed effective date because 
these are unnecessary for the implementation of the court's vacatur 
order and would be impracticable and contrary to public interest in 
light of the agency's need to implement the final judgment. See 5 
U.S.C. 533(b)(B), (d). Delaying the ministerial task of restoring the 
regulatory text also would be contrary to the public interest because 
it could lead to confusion, particularly



among the regulated public, as to the applicable AEWR methodology. With 
regard to changes in this section, the Department issued the 2021 H-2A 
AEWR NPRM, which proposed new paragraphs (b)(1) and (5). Accordingly, 
the Department retains the 2010 H-2A Final Rule's paragraph (c) that 
provides for annual AEWR updates to be published in the Federal 
Register, redesignated as paragraph (b)(2) in this final rule, and will 
address paragraphs (b)(1) and (5) in a separate rulemaking.
i. Must Pay Any Higher AEWR on the Published Effective Date of the New 
Wage Rate
    The text adopted in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule specified the 
employer's obligation to pay the wage rate ``in effect at the time work 
is performed.'' \39\ In the event the OFLC Administrator publishes an 
updated AEWR that is higher than the previous AEWR, a prevailing wage 
for the crop activity or agricultural activity or task(s) and 
geographic area, the agreed-upon collective bargaining wage, the 
Federal minimum wage, or the State minimum wage, the employer must 
start paying the higher wage on the effective date of the new rate. In 
the Federal Register notice publishing the updated AEWRs, the OFLC 
Administrator identifies the effective date of the new AEWRs. Proposed 
Sec.  655.120(b)(3) was intended to more clearly articulate the timing 
of the wage adjustment by codifying the current practice of providing 
employers a short period of time (i.e., up to 14 days) to update their 
payroll systems, such that an employer would not be required to adjust 
a worker's pay in the middle of a pay period, but would be required to 
promptly implement the adjustment.\40\ See 84 FR 36168, 36188. Although 
the January 2021 draft final rule would have accepted the proposal to 
codify an adjustment period of up to 14 calendar days after the 
Department's publication of updated AEWRs in the Federal Register, 
after further consideration of the comments and as explained below, the 
Department has decided not to adopt this proposal, but it otherwise 
adopts the proposed language from the NPRM with minor conforming 
changes.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \39\ Under 44 U.S.C. 1507, publication in the Federal Register 
provides legal notice of the new wage rates. Section 655.122(l) of 
the 2010 H-2A Final Rule required employers to pay the wage rate 
``in effect at the time work is performed.''
    \40\ See, e.g., Notice, Labor Certification Process for the 
Temporary Employment of Aliens in Agriculture in the United States: 
2020 Adverse Effect Wage Rates for Non-Range Occupations, 84 FR 
69774 (Dec. 19, 2019) (announcing AEWRs for 2020 on December 19, 
2019, to be effective January 2, 2020).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department received comments from associations, farm bureaus, 
employers, agents, individual commenters, an agricultural financial 
services business, and a national business advocacy organization 
opposing the requirement that employers must increase the wage rate 
during the employment period if the Department publishes a higher rate. 
Many of these commenters expressed concern this provision would make it 
more difficult for employers to conduct advance operational and budget 
planning because, at the time of filing, they would lack knowledge of 
the required wage rate(s) throughout the entire period of employment. 
An association asserted the wage rate required in the work contract 
should prevail throughout the employment period because ``the 
determination of no adverse impact to domestic workers has been 
satisfied for the contract period'' once the work contract is approved. 
These commenters, however, generally supported the Department's 
proposal to include a period of time for employers to adjust to the new 
wage rate after publication, rather than imposing an obligation to 
immediately implement, with an employer asserting immediate 
implementation would have been ``unrealistic at best'' due to the 
employer's need to update pay structures and a business advocacy 
organization asserting 14 days is insufficient. Another commenter urged 
the Department to set a ``date certain'' on which the updated wage 
rates would be effective.
    The wage adjustment provision will affect only those employers 
whose OFLC-approved offered wage rate falls below the permissible 
minimum wage floor once the Department issues the new wage rates. The 
duty to pay an updated AEWR if it is higher than the other wage sources 
is not a new requirement, as employers participating in the H-2A 
program historically have been required to offer and pay the highest of 
the AEWR, the prevailing wage, or the Federal or State minimum wage at 
the time the work is performed.\41\ As explained in the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule, ``[t]he Department recognizes that these wage adjustments may 
alter employer budgets for the season'' and, therefore, ``employers are 
encouraged to include into their contingency planning certain 
flexibility to account for any possible wage adjustments.'' 2010 H-2A 
Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6901. This is especially true given that 
employers have been required to make these adjustments for many years 
and neither program experience nor comments on the NPRM demonstrated 
that a longer adjustment period would be necessary to avoid significant 
operational burdens on employers or the layoffs and crop deterioration 
cited by some commenters. For similar reasons, the Department believes 
concerns about significant mid-contract increases in the AEWR are 
overstated.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \41\ See, e.g., 1987 H-2A IFR, 52 FR 20496, 20521; Labor 
Certification Process for the Temporary Employment of Aliens in 
Agriculture in the United States; H-2A Program Handbook, 53 FR 
22076, 22095 (June 13, 1988) (``[c]ertified H-2A employers must 
agree, as a condition for receiving certification, to pay a higher 
AEWR than the one in effect at the time an application is submitted 
in the event publication of the [higher] AEWR coincides with the 
period of employment'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A SWA urged the Department to require immediate implementation of 
increased wage rates, asserting that a delay of up to 14 days would 
deprive workers of up to 2 weeks of pay at the AEWR and, therefore, 
would produce the type of adverse effect the Department is required to 
prevent. This commenter believed that if the Department permitted a 14-
day adjustment period, it should require the employer to ``pay any 
increases retroactively, perhaps in the pay period after the new wage 
rate becomes effective,'' which the commenter stated was consistent 
with the Department's FLSA regulations at 29 CFR 778.303. The 
Department is sensitive both to the worker protection concerns the SWA 
raised and to adopting an approach that could add complexity, which is 
inconsistent with the Department's goals in this rulemaking to enhance 
worker protections while simplifying the program to facilitate 
compliance and administration.
    Therefore, in this final rule, the Department has not adopted the 
proposal that would have codified an adjustment period of up to 14 
calendar days after the Department's announcement of the new AEWRs in 
the Federal Register; instead, the Department will continue current 
practice of stating the effective date of the new AEWRs in the Federal 
Register announcement of the new AEWRs, which may be immediate and will 
not be more than 14 calendar days after publication of that notice, 
consistent with historical and current practice. In addition, the 
Department has made a minor revision to align with language regarding 
prevailing wages at Sec.  655.120(c). As discussed further in the 
preamble to Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(iii), the revised language at Sec.  
655.120(b)(3) recognizes that there may be a prevailing wage for a 
distinct work task or tasks within a crop or agricultural



activity in certain situations. Additionally, the Department has made a 
minor revision to clarify that if an updated AEWR is higher than the 
other wage sources, the employer must pay at least the updated AEWR, 
but may choose to offer and pay a higher rate.
ii. Must Not Lower Wage Rate After Publication of a Lower AEWR
    In Sec.  655.120(b)(4), the Department proposed to prohibit 
employers from lowering the wage rate during the certified employment 
period in the event the OFLC Administrator publishes an updated AEWR 
that is lower than the rate guaranteed on the job order. In order to 
avoid potential confusion regarding the requirement to continue to pay 
the previously offered wage if a lower rate is published during the 
employment period, the Department also proposed to remove language in 
Sec. Sec.  655.120(b) and 655.122(l) regarding the wage rate ``in 
effect at the time work is performed.'' This approach ensures the wage 
rate does not fall below the rate that was offered to workers and 
agreed to in the work contract and prevents employers from including a 
clause in the job order to allow such a reduction within contract 
terms. As discussed below, this final rule adopts the proposed language 
from the NPRM unchanged.
    Employer, association, agent, and business advocacy group 
commenters opposed the Department's proposal to prohibit employers from 
reducing the wage rate during the employment period, in the event the 
AEWR decreases. Several commenters, including associations, believed 
the proposal would unfairly undermine mutually agreed-upon contract 
terms. Some of these commenters asserted that the Department's proposal 
infringed upon the employers' and workers' contract rights by 
permitting the Department to ``void'' or ``abrogate'' the wage rate 
offered and agreed to in the employment contract and prohibiting the 
employer from including wage reduction clauses in the contract. An 
agent asserted the prohibition against wage reductions mid-contract 
would disadvantage employers with start dates before an AEWR adjustment 
because they would be required to pay a higher rate throughout the 
period of employment, while an employer with a start date after the new 
AEWR rates are published could pay the lower rate. Two employers and a 
trade association stated that the employer should be permitted to pay a 
lower AEWR if one is published because the AEWR is the ``exact wage'' 
necessary to protect U.S. workers, and the commenters asserted ``there 
is no valid basis to require payment of a higher wage when that wage is 
no longer determined to be the AEWR.''
    With respect to commenters' concern that these provisions infringe 
on employers' and workers' freedom to contract, H-2A employers are free 
to include any terms and conditions in employment contracts that comply 
with all laws and regulations governing the H-2A program and employment 
generally. However, the Department holds the view that agricultural 
workers ``generally comprise an especially vulnerable population whose 
low educational attainment, . . . low rates of unionization and high 
rates of unemployment leave them with few alternatives in the non-farm 
labor market,'' and, as a result, these workers' ``ability to negotiate 
wages and working conditions with farm operators or agriculture service 
employers is quite limited'' (2009 H-2A NPRM, 74 FR 45906, 45911 (Sept. 
4, 2009)), and this ``limited bargaining power . . . exacerbates the 
problem of stagnating [wages]'' (2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 
6894). Prohibiting contract terms that would lower wages paid below the 
offered and agreed-to rates aligns with these concerns and is 
consistent with the Department's broad discretion to determine the most 
effective method of ensuring the employment of H-2A workers does not 
have an adverse effect on the wages of workers in the United States 
similarly employed.
    The Department believes that prohibiting downward adjustments of 
wage rates during the period of certified employment is necessary to 
provide stability and predictability for workers who have limited 
ability to negotiate their wages and working conditions. Accordingly, 
this will help protect against potential adverse effects on the 
workers' wages and working conditions, without increasing the 
employer's wage costs above those in effect at the time of 
certification.
    After consideration of the comments, the Department is adopting the 
proposal to prohibit the employer from reducing the offered wage, even 
in cases where the Department publishes a lower AEWR. Because the 
employer advertised and offered the higher rate on its job order, the 
employer cannot reduce the wage rate below the rate already guaranteed 
in the work contract. The Department has made a minor revision to 
clarify that if an updated AEWR is lower than the rate guaranteed on 
the job order, the employer must pay at least the rate guaranteed on 
the job order, but may choose to offer and pay a higher rate.
c. Section 655.120(c) Prevailing Wage Determinations
i. Background
    The Department proposed to modernize the methodology used to 
conduct prevailing wage surveys that applies to both H-2A and other 
agricultural job orders placed in the Wagner-Peyser Act agricultural 
recruitment system. The Department previously relied on ETA Handbook 
385, which was last updated in 1981, and other sub-regulatory guidance 
to set the standards that govern the prevailing wage surveys SWAs 
conduct to establish prevailing wage rates. The NPRM proposed to 
modernize these standards in order to establish reliable prevailing 
wage rates for employers and workers, and allow SWAs and other State 
agencies to conduct surveys using standards that are more realistic in 
a modern budget environment. Under the proposed methodology, the OFLC 
Administrator would issue a prevailing wage for a given crop activity 
or agricultural activity only if all of the requirements in proposed 
Sec.  655.120(c)(1) are met.
    In particular, the NPRM proposed the following methodological 
standards: (1) the SWA must submit a standardized form providing the 
methodology of the survey; (2) the survey must be independently 
conducted by the SWA or another State entity; (3) the survey must cover 
a distinct work task or tasks performed in a single crop activity or 
agricultural activity; (4) the surveyor must make a reasonable, good 
faith effort to contact all employers who employ workers in the crop or 
agricultural activity within the geographic area surveyed or conduct a 
randomized sampling of such employers; (5) the survey must be limited 
to the wages of U.S. workers, report an average wage, and be based on a 
single unit of pay used to compensate at least 50 percent of the U.S. 
workers included in the survey; (6) the survey must cover an 
appropriate geographic area based on several factors; and (7) the 
survey must report the wages of at least 30 U.S. workers and five 
employers and the wages paid by a single employer must represent no 
more than 25 percent of the sampled wages included in the survey.
    SWAs that seek to prioritize precision of their estimates for the 
purpose of statistical validity for numerically large categories of 
workers may wish to consider employing statistical sampling methods 
that exceed the minimum standards contained in this final rule, such as 
those used by the National Agricultural Statistical Service in the



Agricultural Labor Survey.\42\ However, as explained below, the 
Department is not requiring enhanced sampling methods.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \42\ This detailed information on the statistical methodology of 
the Farm Labor Survey (FLS) is publicly available by searching 
reginfo.gov for Information Collection Requests (ICRs) with the key 
words ``agricultural labor survey,'' opening the most recent 
``Agricultural Labor'' ICR package, then selecting ``View Supporting 
Statement and Other Documents'' and opening the Supporting Statement 
B (SSB) document.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In addition to these standards, the NPRM proposed to establish (1) 
a 1-year validity period for prevailing wage rates; (2) a 14-day window 
in which employers must implement newly required higher prevailing wage 
rates; and (3) the requirement that employers continue to pay at least 
the rate guaranteed on the job order if a prevailing wage rate is 
adjusted during a work contract. The Department received comments both 
in support of and in opposition to these proposals, which are discussed 
in greater detail below. These comments raised a variety of concerns, 
some general and some pertaining to specific provisions identified in 
the NPRM. The Department will first respond to the general comments 
before turning to the proposals in Sec.  655.120(c) and the specific 
comments related to these proposals. As discussed below, the Department 
is adopting paragraphs (c)(1)(ii) and (vi) unchanged from the NPRM and 
is adopting paragraphs (c)(1) introductory text and (c)(1)(i), (iii) 
through (v), and (vii) through (ix) with some changes.
ii. General Comments on Prevailing Wage Determinations
    The Department received general comments regarding the need for 
PWDs. Several commenters including employers and trade associations 
encouraged the Department to remove PWDs from the H-2A regulations 
entirely. Commenters explained agricultural wages involved too many 
factors, which prevent the government from establishing an accurate 
wage rate that is generally applicable and protects the domestic 
workforce from adverse effect. As an example of this ``inaccuracy,'' a 
few commenters observed that employers who respond to the survey in 
some regions or States pay higher rates to compete with employers who 
use the H-2A program in those areas. According to the commenters, the 
inclusion of these higher rates distorts survey results.
    To the extent these comments recommend eliminating prevailing wages 
as a wage source under Sec.  655.120(a), they are outside the scope of 
this rulemaking. With respect to comments on setting accurate wages 
when different factors affect agricultural workers' pay, the Department 
acknowledges it cannot delay or forgo its delegated duties because the 
available data may be less than perfect.\43\ The Department disagrees 
with the commenters' suggestion that the inclusion of responses from 
employers paying higher rates to compete with H-2A employers 
necessarily distorts survey results. The commenters did not provide 
evidence that the inclusion of such rates ``distorts'' survey findings 
or offer examples of survey inaccuracies, beyond mentioning surveys 
challenged in two cases that have since been dismissed in favor of the 
Department and SWA.\44\ Moreover, the prevailing wage rate is intended 
to reflect the average wage of U.S. workers in a geographic area for a 
crop or agricultural activity and, if applicable, distinct work task(s) 
within that activity. If employers are paying a certain average rate 
and the Department validates such a finding, then that is the 
prevailing wage employers must pay to applicable workers when it is the 
highest of available wages sources in Sec.  655.120(a).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \43\ See Zirkle Fruit Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, et al., 442 F. 
Supp. 3d 1366, 1383 (E.D. Wash. 2020) (``Agency action is not 
arbitrary or capricious simply because it is imperfect. Nor are 
agencies required to delay or forego their delegated duties simply 
because they lack a perfect dataset from which to undertake 
them.'').
    \44\ Zirkle Fruit Co., 442 F.Supp.3d at 1383; Order Dismissing 
Case, Evans Fruit Co., et al. v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, et al., No. 
19-cv-3202 (E.D. Wash. Nov. 7, 2019); see also Order Denying 
Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Evans Fruit Co., Inc. 
v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, et al., No. 19-cv-3202 (E.D. Wash. Oct. 11, 
2019) (agency's actions are not arbitrary simply because they rely 
on ``imperfect data or used an imperfect approach'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

iii. General Comments on the Prevailing Wage Survey Methodology
    Several SWAs, employers, agents, and trade associations supported 
modernizing the prevailing wage methodology and revising the 
regulations to provide concrete guidance and criteria. A SWA as well as 
some employers and trade associations believed the proposed standards 
were not rigorous enough to produce accurate PWDs. In contrast, 
workers' rights advocacy organizations claimed the standards were too 
rigorous and would result in too few PWDs. Similarly, two U.S. Senators 
asserted the proposed methodology ``is overly complex'' and raises 
concerns, including ``whether SWAs will be adequately equipped to 
undertake the wage surveys.'' The Senators did not provide additional 
explanation on why they believed the proposal was too complex. Some 
associations expressed concern there was no ``third party . . . peer 
review'' to show the standards would result in accurate prevailing 
wages. One association stated, without additional explanation, that 
changes to the survey methodology should only be attempted in a stand-
alone rule, if at all. The Department appreciates and values the 
commenters' general input on the prevailing wage survey methodology 
proposed in the NPRM. Because of the general nature of these comments, 
the Department is unable to address them in further detail. Beyond 
these general comments, the Department received comments on the 
specific proposals in Sec.  655.120(c), which are addressed in the 
sections that follow.
iv. Section 655.120(c)(1) Introductory Text and (c)(1)(i)
    The Department proposed in Sec.  655.120(c)(1) that the OFLC 
Administrator will issue a prevailing wage for a crop activity or 
agricultural activity if all of the requirements in Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(i) through (ix) are met. The Department did not receive 
comments on this specific proposal, and therefore adopts the language 
in the NPRM with a minor revision to account for a prevailing wage for 
``a distinct work task or tasks performed'' within a crop or 
agricultural activity, if applicable. As discussed further in the 
preamble to Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(iii), the revised language recognizes 
there may be a prevailing wage for a distinct work task or tasks within 
a crop or agricultural activity in certain situations, and conforms to 
similar changes made to portions of Sec.  655.120(c) in this final 
rule.
    In Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(i), the Department proposed to maintain the 
current requirement that the SWA submit a Form ETA-232 to explain the 
methodology used to conduct the prevailing wage survey. An employer and 
trade association supported the proposal, while several workers' rights 
advocacy organizations expressed concern that the Department would only 
require consideration of a prevailing wage rate if it is approved by 
the Department, and OFLC in particular, because this could lead to the 
potential rejection of a prevailing wage survey finding submitted by a 
SWA. Commenters, including two other trade associations, added that the 
Department should sanction SWAs that submit noncompliant or invalid 
surveys.
    After considering the comments received in response to Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(i), the Department has



decided to retain the NPRM language with the same minor revision 
related to distinct work task(s) discussed above.\45\ The Department 
has reviewed and approved SWA prevailing wage findings for decades and 
paragraph (c)(1)(i) reflects a continuation of this longstanding review 
and approval process, not a new requirement. See, e.g., 1987 H-2A IFR, 
52 FR 20496, 20521; ETA Handbook 385 at I-135. The Department disagrees 
that a sanction is needed, especially when the Department has and will 
continue to review prevailing wage findings submitted by SWAs to ensure 
they satisfy the Department's methodological requirements.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \45\ The Department has updated Form ETA-232 to align with the 
prevailing wage methodology in this final rule.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

v. Section 655.120(c)(1)(ii)
    The Department proposed to allow State entities other than the SWA, 
including a State agency, State college, or State university, to 
independently conduct prevailing wage surveys. This proposal sought to 
encourage more surveys conducted by reliable sources, independent of 
employer or worker influence. As the NPRM explained, SWAs have limited 
capacity to conduct surveys given other legal requirements, including 
the statutory requirement to conduct housing inspections. Other State 
entities, however, may have resources and expertise to conduct 
prevailing wage surveys for purposes of the H-2A program. Under the 
proposal, a State entity other than the SWA could choose to conduct a 
prevailing wage survey using State resources without any foreign labor 
certification program funding. Alternatively, the SWA could elect to 
wholly or partially fund a survey conducted by another State entity 
using funds provided by the Department for foreign labor certification 
programs.
    The Department proposed to continue to require the SWA to submit 
the Form ETA-232 for any prevailing wage survey, even if the survey was 
conducted by another State entity. This process is designed to ensure 
the Department will not adjudicate conflicting surveys in the event the 
SWA identifies more than one State prevailing wage survey that might be 
used for purposes of the H-2A program. The NPRM solicited comments on 
alternate methods to address concerns with possible conflicting 
surveys, and whether there are additional neutral sources of prevailing 
wage information that the Department should use in the H-2A program to 
further its effort to modernize State-conducted prevailing wage 
surveys. The Department received several comments on this proposal. 
Following full consideration of these comments, the Department has 
decided to retain the proposal in this final rule without change. The 
Department's responses to these comments are provided below.
Use of Alternative Data Sources
    A workers' rights advocacy organization recommended the Department 
permit SWAs to determine prevailing wages based on information like 
employers' job service listings for similar positions and information 
in a State unemployment insurance (UI) database. The commenter 
explained that a ``wage survey is merely one of the ways'' to determine 
a prevailing wage and ``SWAs have a variety of real time data available 
to them that is provided by employers.'' The commenter added that job 
service staff funded by Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker funds are 
``uniquely qualified'' to assess if an hourly or piece rate wage is 
consistent with the prevailing practice in their region. The commenter 
also urged the Department to use the local wage from the Occupational 
Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey,\46\ formerly the 
Occupational Employment Statistics survey prior to March 31, 2021, to 
establish prevailing wages for crop activities paid on an hourly basis 
when the SWA does not produce a prevailing wage finding or if the 
Department determines the finding submitted does not satisfy 
methodological requirements.
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    \46\ OEWS collects wage data from all 50 States as well as the 
District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin 
Islands. See Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Occupational 
Employment and Wage Statistics Overview, https://www.bls.gov/oes/oes_emp.htm (last modified Mar. 31, 2021) (``The OEWS survey is a 
federal-state cooperative program between [BLS] and [SWAs]. BLS 
provides the procedures and technical support, draws the sample, and 
produces the survey materials, while the SWAs collect the data. SWAs 
from all [50 States], plus [DC], Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin 
Islands participate in the survey. Occupational employment and wage 
rate estimates at the national level are produced by BLS using data 
from the [50 States] and [DC].'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department appreciates the suggestions from the commenter. The 
Department agrees that SWAs and other State entities may draw on UI 
data, job service listings, and other sources of State-generated 
information to formulate prevailing wage surveys. For example, SWAs may 
use information in their State's UI database as one source to help 
identify the general universe of employers to contact, so long as there 
is a 20 CFR part 603 compliant agreement for the transfer of the data. 
SWAs may also refer to job orders and similar information to help 
identify the pay structures for certain crop or agricultural activities 
to determine if there are distinct work task(s) within those activities 
before conducting a survey. As explained in the NPRM, prevailing wage 
surveys are specific to crop and agricultural activities and distinct 
tasks performed within these activities in particular geographic areas, 
as determined by SWAs. 84 FR 36168, 36185-36187. The Department has 
relied on SWAs to determine prevailing wages in the H-2A program for 
decades because they are uniquely positioned to determine the crops and 
activities to be surveyed, the ideal times to conduct surveys for 
various seasonal activities, the universe of employers to be surveyed, 
and the areas in which employers operate, based on their knowledge of 
prevailing local practices and conditions, differing pay structures for 
specific activities and crops, and the movement of migratory farm labor 
within the State. Based on this knowledge of local conditions, SWAs and 
other State entities can draw on alternative sources of information as 
they craft prevailing wage surveys in accordance with the 
methodological requirements in this rule.
    To the extent the commenter is suggesting that sources such as 
employers' job service listings or information in a State UI database 
be used to solely determine prevailing wages, the Department is not 
able to adopt this suggestion in this rulemaking. Although these may be 
neutral sources of wage information, these sources are not surveys or 
data collections designed to facilitate identification of wages paid to 
workers engaged in a particular activity in a particular geographic 
area. As noted in the NPRM, the Department proposed to ``modernize the 
methodology used by the SWAs to conduct prevailing wage surveys'' and 
``allow the SWAs and other State agencies to conduct surveys using 
standards that are more realistic.'' 84 FR 36168, 36178, 36179.\47\ The 
use of these alternative data sources in lieu of a State-conducted 
survey of wages in



a crop or agricultural activity and geographic area to determine 
prevailing wages would require further consideration, in part, 
regarding the appropriate criteria such data sources must meet to 
produce prevailing wages in the H-2A program. Such a change to the 
proposal--adding both a method of determining prevailing wages other 
than State-conducted surveys of employers as well as the criteria for 
the SWA to use in evaluating and using non-survey data sources to 
determine prevailing wages--cannot be adopted without further 
consideration, including notice-and-comment rulemaking.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \47\ See also e.g., 84 FR 36168, 36179 (``Accordingly, the 
Department proposes to make the changes discussed below to modernize 
the prevailing wage methodology and empower States to produce a 
greater number of reliable prevailing wage surveys results.''); 84 
FR 36168, 36263 (prevailing wage defined as a wage rate established, 
inter alia, ``based on a survey conducted by a state that meets the 
requirements in Sec.  655.120(c)''); 84 FR 36168, 36176 (proposing a 
corresponding change to the Wagner-Peyser Act regulation at 20 CFR 
653.501(c)(2)(i) to define ``prevailing wage'' in the same manner 
for the agricultural recruitment system as the Department proposes 
to define ``prevailing wage'' for the H-2A program).
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    Similarly, the Department did not propose to rely on an alternative 
non-State survey, such as the OEWS survey, in the event a SWA or other 
State entity conducts a survey but the survey does not yield a PWD. 
Rather, the Department proposed using the OEWS survey to establish the 
AEWR in certain circumstances. 84 FR 36168, 36183-36184. Moreover, the 
NPRM explained that the Department meets its obligation to protect 
against adverse effect on the wages of workers in the United States 
similarly employed primarily by requiring employers to offer, 
advertise, and pay the AEWR, which is a form of prevailing wage and 
under the current wage methodology is the required wage rate in 
approximately 95 percent of H-2A applications. Id. at 36179. The NPRM 
therefore clarified that the Department is not obligated to establish a 
prevailing wage separate from the AEWR for every occupation and 
agricultural activity in every State. Id. Instead, the Department 
proposed to modernize the methodology used by the SWAs to conduct 
prevailing wage surveys to serve as an additional wage protection for 
workers in specific crops and activities. Id. Adopting the suggestion 
to use the OEWS survey when there is no PWD from a State-conducted 
survey would be a change that commenters and stakeholders generally 
could not have anticipated as an outcome of the rulemaking, thus 
warranting additional public notice and opportunity for comment.
    Finally, to the extent the commenter is referring to SWA staff 
funded by Wagner-Peyser Act funds when it refers to ``job service staff 
funded by Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker funds,'' the Department 
agrees that SWAs are ``uniquely'' positioned to assess differing pay 
structures based on their knowledge of prevailing local practices and 
conditions, as discussed above.
Private and Other Third-Party Surveys
    An individual commenter mistakenly believed the Department proposed 
to eliminate employer-provided prevailing wage surveys, but there are 
no such surveys under the H-2A program and, as such, the NPRM did not 
propose their elimination. Several trade associations, agents, and a 
public policy organization asked the Department to permit the use of 
wage surveys conducted by other third parties, including employer-
provided surveys. One of these commenters explained statistically valid 
employer-provided surveys would save Federal resources and allow for 
``more accurate'' surveys tailored to particular areas and occupations. 
The commenter stated it was irrational for the Department to permit 
such surveys in the H-2B program, but not the H-2A program.
    The Department declines to adopt the request to allow private or 
employer-provided surveys. As a preliminary matter, the Department 
notes that the comment mischaracterizes the Department's position on 
the use of employer-provided surveys in the H-2B program. The 2015 H-2B 
Final Rule permits employer-provided surveys only in limited 
circumstances: (1) those conducted by a State or State agency, State 
college, or State university; (2) those submitted for a geographic area 
where the OEWS does not collect data, or in a geographic area where the 
OEWS provides an arithmetic mean only at a national level for workers 
employed in the SOC occupation; or (3) where the job opportunity is not 
included in an occupational classification of the SOC system, or is 
included within a SOC occupation designated as ``all other.'' \48\ 
Further, only in the latter two scenarios (i.e., (2) and (3)) would the 
Department permit an employer to submit a private wage survey for 
consideration. Subsequently, Congress required the Department to expand 
the types of surveys permitted in the H-2B program through 
Appropriations Act legislation first enacted in 2015 and every year 
since.\49\
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    \48\ See 2015 H-2B Final Rule, 80 FR 24146, 24165-24171 (Apr. 
29, 2015) (discussing at length the reasons the Department does not 
permit general use of employer-provided private wage surveys); Sec.  
655.10(f); see also Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas 
(CATA) v. Perez, 774 F.3d 173, 191 (3d Cir. 2014) (directing ``that 
private surveys no longer be used in determining the mean rate of 
wage for occupations except where an otherwise applicable [OEWS] 
survey does not provide any data for an occupation in a specific 
geographical location, or where the [OEWS] survey does not 
accurately represent the relevant job classification'').
    \49\ See, e.g., Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Public 
Law 116-260, div. H, tit. 1, sec. 110 (2020); Consolidated 
Appropriations Act, 2020, Public Law 116-94, div. A, tit. I, sec. 
110 (2019); Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, Public Law 114-
113, div. H, tit. I, sec. 112 (2015); see also Effects of the 2016 
Department of Labor Appropriations Act (Dec. 29, 2015) at p. 4, 
https://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/pdf/H-2B_Prevailing_Wage_FAQs_DOL_Appropriations_Act.pdf.
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    Moreover, due to regulatory differences between the H-2A and H-2B 
programs, the Department believes it is reasonable to exclude employer-
provided surveys in the H-2A program but allow them in limited 
circumstances in the H-2B program. First, there is no AEWR under the H-
2B program. Instead, the employer must offer a wage that is at least 
equal to the prevailing wage or the Federal, State, or local minimum 
wage, whichever is highest. Second, the PWD processes in the H-2A and 
H-2B programs are distinct. In the H-2B program, the prevailing wage is 
determined on a case-by-case basis, in advance of the employer's 
application filing with the OFLC NPC.\50\ In contrast, prevailing wages 
under the H-2A program are historically determined using one method--
SWA surveys submitted to the OFLC Administrator--and are applicable to 
all H-2A applications for the crop or agricultural activity in the area 
surveyed.\51\ There is no mechanism in the H-2A program for OFLC to 
evaluate wage surveys for specific job opportunities or from sources 
other than the SWA. Instead, the SWA must submit prevailing wage survey 
results to OFLC on the Form ETA-232. This final rule continues this 
requirement, even if the survey submitted with the SWA's Form ETA-232 
was conducted by another State entity. Finally, given that employers 
are required to pay the highest of the wage sources listed in Sec.  
655.120(a), it seems unlikely that an employer would submit an 
alternate wage survey because the wage finding from that survey would 
impact the employer's wage offer requirement only if it is the highest 
among the sources in Sec.  655.120(a).
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    \50\ H-2B employers must obtain a PWD from the National 
Prevailing Wage Center (NPWC) before filing an H-2B application with 
the NPC. The NPWC engages in a case-by-case analysis of the 
employer's job opportunity and several wage sources.
    \51\ During application review, the NPC compares the prevailing 
wage for the crop or agricultural activity and area, if available, 
to the other applicable wage sources (i.e., AEWR; CBA; and Federal 
and State minimum wages) to determine the highest wage.
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Surveys Conducted by Non-SWA State Entities
    An employer asserted that only State agriculture agencies should 
conduct surveys because SWAs and others lack industry expertise. A 
trade association opposed allowing SWAs to use surveys conducted by 
other State entities because this could create uncertainty



and may produce wages that ``fluctuate wildly.'' A public policy 
organization stated the NPRM does not offer a methodology to resolve 
conflicting surveys or address whether State universities may accept 
money from grower associations to conduct prevailing wage surveys. In 
contrast, a commenter from academia and another association supported 
the proposal in the NPRM, with the association noting that surveys 
conducted by non-SWA State entities would ``alleviate concerns'' over 
the reliability of OEWS data for agricultural occupations and provide a 
``reasonable alternative'' to the FLS.
    The Department declines to adopt the suggestion to limit surveys to 
State agriculture agencies or SWAs. The Department seeks to increase, 
rather than limit, the number of State entities that can conduct 
surveys in order to encourage more prevailing wage findings. The 
commenters' suggestion would conflict with this goal. Moreover, the 
Department is retaining the SWA as the entry point for other State 
entity surveys in order to leverage the SWA's expertise in the 
selection of surveys to submit for OFLC approval. In response to the 
comment that the NPRM did not offer a ``methodology'' to resolve 
conflicting surveys, this final rule clarifies that the SWA will 
evaluate conflicting State surveys and submit to the Department only 
one survey for a crop or agricultural activity and distinct work 
task(s) in that activity, if applicable, for a particular area.
    With regard to the comment on whether State universities could 
accept money from grower associations to conduct a survey, the 
Department understands this comment to be concerned with the 
impartiality of State-conducted surveys. As noted in the 2015 H-2B 
Final Rule, the Department has a long history of partnering with States 
to collect wage data and determine prevailing wage rates. See 80 FR 
24146, 24170. The Department accepts surveys conducted by State 
entities, such as State agriculture agencies and universities, because 
these sources are considered reliable and independent of employer 
influence. Id. The requirement that the State must independently 
conduct the survey means that the State must design and implement the 
survey without regard to the interest of any employer in the outcome of 
the wage reported from the survey. Id. In addition, the Department does 
not believe wages will vary significantly depending on the State entity 
that conducts the survey. This is because entities will be held to the 
same methodological standards, and OFLC will review prevailing wage 
findings prior to the issuance of any prevailing wage rate to ensure 
the survey meets methodological requirements.
vi. Section 655.120(c)(1)(iii)
    The Department proposed that a prevailing wage survey must cover a 
distinct work task or tasks performed in a single crop activity or 
agricultural activity. The Department explained the concept of distinct 
work tasks is continued from ETA Handbook 385, which provides:

    Some crop activities involve a number of separate and distinct 
operations. Thus, in harvesting tomatoes, some workers pick the 
tomatoes and place them in containers while others load the 
containers into trucks or other conveyances. Separate wage rates are 
usually paid for individual operations or combinations of 
operations. For the purposes of this report, each operation or job 
related to a specific crop activity for which a separate wage rate 
is paid should be identified and listed separately.

    ETA Handbook 385 at I-113 (emphasis in original). The NPRM stated 
``[t]he distinct task requirement means that even within a single crop, 
distinct work tasks that are compensated differently (e.g., picking and 
packing) would be required to be surveyed in a manner that produces 
separate wage results.'' 84 FR 36168, 36186.
    The Department received several comments on this proposal. Some 
trade associations asked the Department to clarify what constitutes a 
distinct work task within a crop or agricultural activity so employers 
can provide more accurate and reliable wage data. A workers' rights 
advocacy organization stated that it would be difficult for SWAs to 
determine which activities are paid differently until after the survey 
is complete. One trade association opposed the determination of wage 
rates by tasks because it believed doing so could negatively affect 
smaller operations and expose employers to liability.
    After careful consideration of the comments, the Department has 
decided to retain the proposal in this final rule with clarification in 
this section of the preamble and a minor change to the regulatory text. 
In particular, the Department clarifies that if the SWA or surveyor 
knows before the administration of a survey that separate wage rates 
are paid to a distinct work task or tasks within a crop or agricultural 
activity, then the survey must be designed to capture that unique 
task(s) and wage rate(s). This knowledge could come from different 
sources, including prior experience or stakeholder engagement during 
the survey development phase.
    The Department also clarifies that a SWA or surveyor may determine 
that a task or tasks within a crop or agricultural activity is paid 
differently during or after the survey administration period. For 
example, a survey form could ask employers to list the crop activity--
including distinct work task(s) within each activity--associated with 
each unique wage rate. The survey could also provide a space for 
employers to furnish additional information on factors that may affect 
wage rates. Depending on the responses from employers (if any), the SWA 
or surveyor may determine there are distinct work task(s) within an 
activity and that it therefore must calculate a separate wage rate for 
this task or tasks. The Department's above clarifications allow SWAs to 
retain discretion over which crop and agricultural activities to survey 
and the methods for collecting data from employers--as is the case 
under current standard practice--while fulfilling the requirements of 
this provision. Finally, consistent with current practice and language 
in the Handbook, the Department has revised the regulatory text for 
this provision to clarify that the survey must cover work performed in 
a single crop or agricultural activity and, if applicable, a distinct 
work task(s) performed in that activity. This change recognizes that 
not every crop activity or agricultural activity will have a distinct 
work task or tasks and thus not every survey will cover such task or 
tasks.\52\
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    \52\ See ETA Handbook 385 at I-113 (``Some crop activities 
involve a number of separate and distinct operations.'') (emphasis 
added).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In response to the trade associations' request for clarification, 
the concept of distinct work tasks is not new, but rather a 
continuation from ETA Handbook 385. As noted in the Handbook, the 
hallmark of a distinct work task performed in a crop or agricultural 
activity is a separate wage rate that is paid for that operation or 
job. Given the factors that may affect wage rates, the Department is 
unable to provide an exhaustive list of tasks for all crop or 
agricultural activities in all geographic areas. Instead, what 
constitutes a distinct work task must be determined in each case, 
depending on the information before the SWA or other State surveyor.
    The Department acknowledges the workers' rights advocacy 
organization's comment that SWAs may not know if activities are paid 
differently until after the completion of a survey. As clarified above, 
a SWA or surveyor may



determine a distinct work task or tasks performed within a crop or 
agricultural activity is paid differently during or after the survey 
administration period. The Department believes this clarification 
addresses the workers' rights advocacy organization's comment and notes 
SWA commenters did not express concern that determining the distinct 
work tasks to be covered by a survey has been challenging under the 
Handbook or will be challenging under the similar provision proposed in 
the NPRM. Finally, the trade association did not explain how the 
proposal would adversely affect smaller operations, though it claimed 
that smaller operations rely on fewer workers to perform a more diverse 
array of tasks. As explained above, the concept of a distinct work task 
is a continuation from ETA Handbook 385. The Department is not aware of 
instances where employers have been exposed to liability related to 
this concept in the decades that prevailing wage surveys have been 
conducted using the Handbook and related guidance. In addition, because 
a separate wage rate is the hallmark of a distinct work task, an 
applicable employer--regardless of size--must pay this rate if it is 
approved by OFLC as the prevailing wage and is the highest of the 
applicable wage sources in Sec.  655.120(a).
vii. Section 655.120(c)(1)(iv)
    The Department proposed that the surveyor must make a reasonable, 
good faith effort to contact all employers who employ workers in the 
crop or agricultural activity and geographic area surveyed or conduct a 
randomized sampling of such employers. The NPRM explained this 
requirement is based on general statistical principles and consistent 
with ETA Handbook 385. 84 FR 36168, 36186 (citing ETA Handbook 385 at 
I-114). The NPRM proposed to continue the use of a random sample and 
clarified that a random sample or survey of the entire population is a 
requirement, not a recommendation. It noted this requirement is 
consistent with the H-2B prevailing wage regulation at Sec.  655.10 and 
current H-2B prevailing wage guidance interpreting the H-2B 
appropriations riders. The Department received two general sets of 
comments on this proposal. Having carefully considered these comments, 
the Department has decided to adopt the regulatory text proposed in the 
NPRM, with some revisions.
    The first set of comments addressed the requirement to contact all 
employers in the area or a random sample of such employers. A workers' 
rights advocacy organization asserted that contacting all employers of 
workers in a particular crop or agricultural activity would be 
impossible for States operating with limited resources because no ready 
database of this information exists. The commenter asked the Department 
to clarify what would constitute a ``reasonable'' attempt to contact 
all employers in the universe and stated it would be clearer to ask the 
States to perform a random sample of employers of which they have 
knowledge, rather than a sample of all ``such employers.'' The 
commenter also suggested the regulations allow States to propose an 
alternative sampling method that aligns with the conditions and 
resources in that State. An agent claimed that allowing a reasonable, 
good faith attempt to contact all employers to substitute for 
statistically valid sampling ``severely limits'' the validity of 
resulting wages. A trade association stated it did not oppose the use 
of random samples if the survey produces reliable, statistically valid 
data and wages are not separated by task or otherwise discriminates 
against smaller operations.
    The Department agrees with the workers' rights advocacy 
organization that the surveyor may not know the universe of all 
relevant employers at the beginning of a survey. This final rule 
therefore clarifies that the surveyor may estimate the universe of 
relevant employers and make a reasonable, good faith effort to contact 
these employers based on the estimated universe. This final rule also 
clarifies that under the random sample option, the surveyor must, at a 
minimum, estimate the universe of relevant employers and workers and 
then randomly select a sufficient number of employers from the 
estimated universe to contact in order to satisfy the minimum employer 
and worker sample size requirements. These minimum requirements or 
``baseline standards'' are discussed in the preamble to Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(vii) through (ix). The Department's interpretation of the 
random sample option is consistent with its interpretation of a similar 
requirement for employer-provided surveys in the H-2B program.\53\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \53\ See, e.g., 2015 H-2B Final Rule, 80 FR 24146, 24173 
(``Proper randomization requires the surveyor to determine the 
appropriate `universe' of employers to be surveyed before beginning 
the survey and to select randomly a sufficient number of employers 
to survey to meet the minimum criteria on the number of employers 
and workers who must be sampled.'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The NPRM proposed that a survey must include the wages of U.S. 
workers employed by at least five employers, among other baseline 
standards. As explained in the preamble discussing Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(vii) through (ix), it is the Department's understanding 
that some crop or agricultural activities and distinct work task(s) in 
a geographic region may have a smaller number of employers. The 
Department made changes to Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(vii) through (ix) so 
that States may still determine a prevailing wage in such a situation. 
Consistent with those changes, the Department amends this provision to 
clarify that if the estimated universe of employers is fewer than five, 
the surveyor must contact all employers in the estimated universe, 
instead of contacting a random sample or making a reasonable, good 
faith attempt to contact such employers. This final rule adds two 
clarifying edits: first, to replace ``conducted'' with ``contacted'' in 
regard to a randomized sample for consistency with the language in 
other parts of the provision, namely the ``contact all relevant 
employers'' option, and with the purpose of this provision, which is to 
set forth how the surveyor should contact employers in the estimated 
universe. Second, this final rule amends the regulatory text to clarify 
that the estimated universe is for a crop activity or agricultural 
activity and, if applicable, a distinct work task or tasks within that 
activity. This clarification recognizes there may be a PWD for a 
distinct work task or tasks within a crop activity or agricultural 
activity in certain situations, and is consistent with changes to other 
portions of Sec.  655.120(c) in this final rule.
    Consistent with SWAs' current practice, the surveyor may estimate 
the universe of relevant employers from information obtained from 
sources such as UI databases, open and closed job orders, State labor 
market information, and information provided by State agricultural 
extension offices. The surveyor has the option to conduct a 
statistically valid sampling or stratified random sampling by employer 
size. However, the Department is not requiring enhanced sampling 
methods. Though the minimum standards in this final rule may not return 
statistically valid results in all cases due to the reduced sample size 
requirements,\54\ the Department believes that the requirements in this 
provision, along with other safeguards in Sec.  655.120(c), will allow 
for the increased availability of State-specific data and crop/task 
categorical granularity, and are aimed at ensuring surveys that are 
sufficiently



representative and do not rely on selective sampling or other 
techniques that may produce wage estimates that are not representative 
of wages paid to workers in the United States similarly employed. In 
addition, these minimum standards are intended to provide more options 
for SWAs to make decisions about whether to prioritize precision, 
accuracy, granularity, or other quality factors in the data they use to 
inform prevailing wages. The Department will provide technical 
assistance to the SWAs, as needed.
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    \54\ As noted further below, the sample size requirements in 
this final rule are consistent with or exceed the OEWS survey 
requirements as well as the ``safety zone'' standards used by the 
DOJ and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the anti-trust context.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In response to the suggestion to allow an alternative sampling 
method, the Department concludes that this final rule balances the need 
to provide the surveyor with the flexibility to determine the type of 
survey to conduct with the need to ensure the results of the survey are 
as reliable as possible. The Department does not believe there is a 
reasonable alternative sampling method that consistently balances these 
goals, and the commenter did not suggest any.
    With regard to requests for clarification on what constitutes a 
``reasonable'' attempt to contact relevant employers, the NPRM 
explained that a reasonable, good faith effort might mean the surveyor 
sends the survey through the mail or other appropriate means to all 
employers in the geographic area and then follows up by telephone with 
all non-respondents. 84 FR 36168, 36186; see also 2015 H-2B Final Rule, 
80 FR 24146, 24173. However, a surveyor can make a ``reasonable, good 
faith'' attempt to contact relevant employers in other ways and the 
Department believes an assessment of reasonable contact methods will be 
determined most effectively on a case-by-case basis, depending on the 
facts before the OFLC Administrator. The Department disagrees with the 
agent's comment that allowing a reasonable, good faith attempt to 
contact all employers ``severely limits'' the validity of the resulting 
wage. Surveys often are based on samples from a population and are not 
``severely limited'' merely because the surveyor did not contact the 
entire population. Rather, the validity of a survey will depend on 
factors such as the number of responses received. As mentioned above, 
the minimum standards in Sec.  655.120(c) are aimed at ensuring surveys 
that are sufficiently representative and do not rely on selecting 
sampling or other techniques that result in biased prevailing wages.
    The second set of comments addressed the perceived elimination of 
the in-person interview requirement. Specifically, commenters, 
including two trade associations, claimed that in-person interviews of 
employers and employees are needed to obtain and verify accurate wage 
data. A workers' rights advocacy organization stated in-person 
interviews of workers are likely necessary for reforestation and pine 
straw work. In contrast, another workers' rights advocacy organization 
and a commenter from academia agreed that in-person interviews are no 
longer practical.
    In response to comments that in-person employer and employee 
interviews are necessary, the Department notes, as it explained in the 
NPRM, that in-person interviews are unnecessarily burdensome and 
inconsistent with modern survey methods. 84 FR 36168, 36179, 36185. 
Neither the FLS nor OEWS survey requires in-person interviews of 
employers as the primary collection method. Both the FLS and OEWS 
survey, moreover, rely solely on employer-reported data and do not 
canvass workers directly. The Department's current standard practice 
for conducting prevailing wage surveys does not require SWAs to 
interview employers in person.\55\ The commenters did not explain why 
telephone, mail, or electronic methods of contacting employers are 
insufficient to collect verifiably accurate results. The Department's 
current standard practice also does not require SWAs to conduct worker 
interviews.\56\ Therefore under this final rule, SWAs are not obligated 
to conduct in-person interviews of employers or worker interviews. 
Finally, because reforestation and pine straw workers are not covered 
in the H-2A program under this final rule, the workers' rights advocacy 
organization's comment that in-person interviews may be required for 
these industries is no longer applicable.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \55\ This practice is based on public guidance issued by the 
Department to SWAs that amended the guidance in ETA Handbook 385. 
See, e.g., TEGL No. 21-20, Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Foreign Labor 
Certification Grant Planning Guidance (May 10, 2021).
    \56\ See id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

viii. Section 655.120(c)(1)(v)
    The NPRM proposed to limit prevailing wage surveys to the wages of 
U.S. workers. It also proposed to require the SWA or other State entity 
to determine prevailing wages based on the unit of pay used to 
compensate at least 50 percent of the U.S. workers included in the 
survey and that the rate of pay must be based on the average wage of 
all the U.S. workers within the selected unit of pay. This final rule 
adopts these provisions with changes, explained below.
Limiting the Survey to the Wages of U.S. Workers
    Limiting prevailing wage surveys to the wages of U.S. workers 
applies to both determining the universe of workers' wages to be 
sampled and the universe of workers' wages reported. The NPRM explained 
that this limitation is consistent with current policy \57\ and 
reflects the Department's longstanding concern that including the wages 
of non-U.S. workers may depress wages.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \57\ The NPRM noted that ETA Handbook 385 uses the terms 
``domestic workers'' and ``U.S. workers'' in describing the sample 
to be conducted, and the previous version of the Form ETA-232 
similarly limits the survey to U.S. workers. 84 FR 36168, 36186 n. 
50.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Several trade associations and an agent urged the Department not to 
limit survey responses to the wages of U.S. workers because of the 
potential legal implications for employers, including that employers 
may not know whether workers are undocumented. These commenters and 
others also opposed the proposal on the basis that the Department does 
not similarly exclude from survey responses the wages paid to H-2A 
workers and workers in corresponding employment, which the commenters 
claim may inflate or skew the prevailing wage. Another trade 
association suggested the inclusion of non-U.S. workers would allow the 
Department to determine whether foreign workers are adversely affecting 
the wages of U.S. workers. An employer and trade association requested 
the Department add a provision that would make H-2A workers part of the 
prevailing wage survey if more than 10 percent of the agricultural 
workforce in a State is composed of H-2A workers or workers in 
corresponding employment. After careful consideration of the comments, 
the Department has decided to adopt the proposal to limit the survey to 
U.S. workers. This final rule clarifies that ``determining the universe 
of workers' wages to be sampled'' means the survey instrument must ask 
employers to report the wages of U.S. workers only.
    As explained above and in the NPRM, this survey limitation is a 
continuation of the Department's current policy. Employers already have 
experience verifying worker eligibility prior to employment, and they 
have the obligation to continue to do so. Moreover, the Department is 
not aware of cases where employers have been exposed to liability based 
on the wages they have provided in response to SWA survey requests. 
Survey results should exclude the wages of H-2A workers, but



should include the wages of U.S. workers in the crop activity or 
agricultural activity and distinct work task(s), if applicable, and 
geographic area. As noted above, the prevailing wage rate is intended 
to reflect the average wage of U.S. workers in a geographic area and a 
given crop or agricultural activity and, if applicable, distinct work 
task(s) within that activity. If prevailing wage surveys determine 
employers are paying a certain average rate for an activity or distinct 
task(s) in an area and the Department validates this finding, then that 
rate is the prevailing wage rate and must be paid to applicable workers 
when it is the highest of available wages sources listed in Sec.  
655.120(a).
    The Department declines to adopt the suggestion to include the 
wages of non-U.S. workers in a survey, or include the wages of H-2A 
workers in surveys when they are concentrated in an area, because it is 
contrary to the purpose of prevailing wage rates, which are intended to 
reflect the wage paid to U.S. workers in a given crop or agricultural 
activity and geographic area. As explained in the NPRM, limiting the 
survey to U.S. workers reflects the Department's longstanding concern 
that including the wages of non-U.S. workers in a prevailing wage 
finding may depress wages. 84 FR 36168, 36186. To the extent U.S. 
workers in corresponding employment are covered by a prevailing wage 
survey, the Department concludes that the survey will sufficiently 
represent the wages paid by that employer to its H-2A workers as well. 
This is because H-2A employers must offer to U.S. workers no less than 
the same benefits, wages, and working conditions the employer is 
offering, intends to offer, or will provide to their H-2A workers. See 
Sec.  655.122(a).
Unit of Pay Determinations
    The NPRM proposed that a prevailing wage be issued only if a single 
unit of pay is used to compensate at least 50 percent of the U.S. 
workers included in the survey, similar to the current requirement in 
ETA Handbook 385.\58\ The Department proposed this requirement both to 
verify that the rate structure reflected in the survey is actually 
prevailing and to allow the wages included in the survey to be 
averaged, as it would not be possible to average wages using different 
units of measurement.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \58\ ETA Handbook 385 at I-117 (noting that, if a survey 
includes more than one unit of pay, a prevailing wage rate is issued 
based on the unit of pay that represents the largest number of 
workers).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A trade association expressed support for this proposal. A workers' 
rights advocacy organization requested the Department revise the 
regulatory text to clarify that the survey must report the unit of pay 
used to compensate at least 50 percent of the workers represented in 
the survey responses, not 50 percent of all workers in the estimated 
survey universe.
    This final rule adopts the NPRM proposal with changes to the 
regulatory text in response to the above comments and after the 
Department's own further consideration. First, the Department has 
revised the provision to require the PWD to be based on the unit of pay 
used to compensate the largest number of workers, rather than ``at 
least 50 percent of the workers,'' which is consistent with the current 
unit of pay provision in the Handbook. The Department made this change 
in this final rule because the proposed ``50 percent of U.S. workers'' 
would impose a requirement that is more stringent than the language in 
the Handbook for crop or agricultural activities involving several 
units of pay (e.g., per hour, per pound with no bonus, per pound with a 
bonus). While uncommon, the Department acknowledges there are instances 
where the survey results reflect more than two units of pay for a crop 
or agricultural activity and distinct work task(s) in that activity, if 
applicable. In such situations, there will be at least one unit of pay 
that is paid to the ``largest number of workers'' whose wages are 
reported in the survey, but it is possible that no single unit of pay 
will account for ``at least 50 percent'' of such workers. Because the 
unit of pay that is paid to the largest number of workers in the survey 
can be considered prevailing, the Department believes this proposed 
change better aligns with its goal of encouraging more prevailing wage 
surveys through the adoption of standards that are as reliable as 
possible, while also accounting for the realities of a modern budget 
environment.
    The Department made some minor revisions to the regulatory text for 
clarity and conformity with other provisions. The Department added 
``U.S.'' before ``workers'' in the regulatory text for clarification 
and consistency with the requirement that prevailing wage surveys 
include only wages of U.S. workers. The Department also changed the 
phrase from ``whose wages are surveyed'' to ``whose wages are reported 
in the survey,'' to address the workers' rights advocacy organization's 
request that the Department clarify that this language refers to survey 
responses received. Finally, the Department added the language ``and 
distinct work task(s), if applicable'' after ``crop activity or 
agricultural activity,'' for clarity and consistency with other changes 
to the regulatory text in Sec.  655.120(c). As applied to this 
provision, this change clarifies that if the surveyor determines that a 
task (or tasks) within a crop or agricultural activity is paid 
differently (i.e., there is a distinct work task or tasks within the 
activity), then the survey should report the average wage of U.S. 
workers in that distinct work task(s).
Rate of Pay Determinations
    The NPRM proposed that the survey must report the average wage of 
all workers within the prevailing unit of pay, which departed from the 
current requirement in ETA Handbook 385 to use a ``40 percent rule'' 
and a ``51 percent rule'' to determine the prevailing rate of pay. The 
NPRM proposed using the average wage because it is consistent with the 
method the Department proposed to determine the AEWR, as well as the 
current methodology for determining prevailing wage rates in the H-2B 
program. The NPRM solicited comments on the proposal, as well as 
possible alternatives, including whether the Department should retain 
the ``40 percent rule'' or ``51 percent rule'' from the Handbook or 
whether the Department should, instead, establish the prevailing wage 
at the median wage based on wages in the prevailing unit of pay.
    An employer, a SWA, and several trade associations urged the 
Department to use the median wage rather than the average wage on the 
basis that the former lessens the impact of outliers. A trade 
association recommended retaining the 40 percent and 51 percent rules 
without additional explanation. A SWA supported replacing the 40 and 51 
percent rules with this proposal as a way to simplify the methodology 
for determining the prevailing wage rate and potentially reduce 
confusion among stakeholders regarding how the prevailing wage is 
determined, but it asked for clarification on whether the SWA must 
collect ``piece rate dimensions (i.e., specific linear dimensions of 
apple bins).''
    After consideration of these comments, the Department has decided 
to adopt the NPRM proposal to use the average or mean wage. As 
explained in the 2015 H-2B Final Rule, the mean is the appropriate wage 
to use to avoid immigration-induced labor market distortions.\59\ The 
mean is the arithmetic



average of all wages surveyed in a crop or agricultural activity--and 
distinct work task(s) within that activity, if applicable--in the 
geographic area. If the applicable prevailing wage is set below the 
mean, it could result in a depressive effect on U.S. workers' wages 
overall because the average wage of U.S. workers in the relevant 
activity or task(s) would be drawn down. See 2015 H-2B Final Rule, 80 
FR 24146, 24159-24160. Use of the mean is also consistent with the 
Department's determination of prevailing wages for other foreign worker 
programs. See 20 CFR 655.10(b)(2), (f)(2) (setting the prevailing wage 
in the H-2B program at the mean for the OEWS and employer-provided 
surveys); see also 20 CFR 656.40(b)(2) (similar for PERM); 20 CFR 
655.731(a)(2)(ii) (similar for H-1B); 20 CFR 655.410(b)(1) (similar for 
CW-1).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \59\ See 80 FR 24146, 24159-24160; see also Interim Final Rule, 
Wage Methodology for the Temporary Non-Agricultural Employment H-2B 
Program, Part 2, 78 FR 24047, 24058 (Apr. 24, 2013).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Finally, this final rule clarifies that it may be appropriate to 
collect piece rate dimensions in some situations, such as when the unit 
of measurement of a piece is not standardized and can have differing 
dimensions. However, these determinations should be made on a case-by-
case basis by the SWA or State entity conducting the survey. If 
necessary, the Department will provide technical assistance to the 
SWAs.
Other Comments on Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(v)
    Several trade associations and an agent opposed the ``50 percent of 
U.S. workers'' proposal because they believed it would impose an 
unrealistic wage level on employers as piece rate work may be converted 
to hourly compensation. They urged the Department, without additional 
explanation, to establish piece rate and hourly wages separately to 
avoid piece rate compensation for those who are most productive from 
inflating hourly wages. An employer and another trade association 
claimed that piece rates are effectively ``double counted'' when they 
are incorporated into the calculations of both the AEWR hourly rate and 
prevailing piece rates.
    The commenters' specific concern regarding the conversion of units 
of pay is unclear. Under the Department's approach, a prevailing wage 
is issued when a unit of pay is used to compensate the largest number 
of U.S. workers in the survey, assuming the survey meets other 
applicable requirements. For example, if 75 percent of U.S. workers 
included in the survey results are paid hourly, OFLC would issue an 
hourly prevailing wage rate for that activity. If those workers were 
paid, instead, by the piece based on the same unit of measurement 
(e.g., bushel), OFLC would issue a prevailing wage based on a piece 
rate. As such, in calculating a prevailing wage, OFLC would not convert 
one unit of pay to another (e.g., converting piece rates to hourly 
rates) because the ``largest number of workers'' standard must be for 
the same unit of pay.
    The Department declines to adopt the suggestion to establish 
separate piece rate and hourly wages because a wage rate based on one 
unit of pay can be prevailing for a crop or agricultural activity and 
distinct work task(s), if applicable, in the relevant geographic area 
even if there are other units of pay.\60\ Establishing both a 
prevailing hourly rate and piece rate for an activity or task(s) in 
every instance would be at odds with the Department's current 
regulations and guidance under ETA Handbook 385. However, there could 
be a situation in which there are different units of pay, each one 
accounting for an equal number of U.S. workers whose wages are reported 
in the survey. Should this rare situation occur and the survey meets 
other applicable requirements, a separate prevailing rate would be 
determined for each unit of payment. This clarification is consistent 
with the guidance in ETA Handbook 385. See ETA Handbook 385 at I-117.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \60\ See ETA Handbook 385 at I-117 (guidance on determining the 
prevailing wage rate when there is more than one unit of payment). 
Moreover, Sec.  653.501(c)(2)(i) of the Wagner-Peyser Act regulation 
states that ``[i]f the wages offered are expressed as piece rates . 
. . [the Employment Service staff] must check if the employer's 
calculation of the estimated hourly wage rate is . . . not less than 
the prevailing wage rate.'' This provision covers clearance of both 
H-2A and non-H-2A agricultural job orders and requires the SWA to 
ensure that wages offered by an employer are not less than the 
higher of several wage sources, as applicable. By explicitly 
referencing different units of pay, this regulation recognizes that 
the prevailing wage rate may not be in the unit of payment that the 
employer offers in its job order.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    To the extent commenters are suggesting that piece rates, as 
incentive pay, not be included in the calculations of the AEWR, the 
Department declined to adopt this suggestion in the 2020 H-2A AEWR 
Final Rule. As that rule explains, some agricultural jobs guarantee 
only the State or Federal minimum wage and otherwise pay based on a 
piece rate; advertising an hourly wage that does not include 
``incentive pay'' is not a reasonable ``base rate'' for H-2A employers 
to advertise to U.S. workers.\61\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \61\ 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule, 85 FR 70445, 70463; see also 
2021 H-2A AEWR NPRM, 86 FR 68174, 68182.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Finally, some comments stated prevailing wage surveys should 
account for the fact that H-2A employers pay expenses not borne by non-
H-2A employers, such as housing, transportation, visa costs, and 
subsistence. The Department does not agree. Prevailing wage surveys 
measure the wage rates paid to U.S. workers, not wage rates paid to H-
2A workers or total labor costs employers may incur to ensure workers 
are available when and where needed to perform the labor or services an 
employer requires. As such, adopting the commenters' suggestion would 
be inconsistent with the purpose of the prevailing wage and may, 
instead, depress the wages of workers in the United States similarly 
employed.
ix. Section 655.120(c)(1)(vi)
    The Department proposed that a prevailing wage survey cover an 
appropriate geographic area based on (1) available resources to conduct 
the survey; (2) the size of the agricultural population covered by the 
survey; and (3) any different wage structures in the crop or 
agricultural activity within the State. The Department stated in the 
NPRM that it intended to codify existing practice in which OFLC 
receives prevailing wage surveys of State, sub-State, and regional 
geographic areas based on the factors listed above. The NPRM solicited 
comments on whether the Department should consider other factors in 
determining the appropriate geographic area for prevailing wage 
surveys.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization requested the Department 
clarify what would constitute an appropriate area to survey, including 
an explanation of the relevance of the ``size of the agricultural 
population'' and how it factors in these determinations. The commenter 
claimed that, in practice, prevailing wages are calculated by SWAs 
within the boundaries of their respective States because they do not 
have the capacity or authority to survey across State lines. The 
commenter also asserted that SWAs appear to rely on agricultural 
reporting areas, as the term is used in ETA Handbook 385, and suggested 
the Department codify the asserted reliance on agricultural reporting 
areas rather than the AIE. An agent expressed concern that the 
provision would permit SWAs to survey ``truncated'' areas based on 
resource constraints alone.
    After careful consideration of the above comments, the Department 
has decided to retain the provision as proposed. As noted in the NPRM, 
the Department intends for this provision to codify existing practice, 
which allows for surveys based on State, sub-State, and, in some cases, 
regional areas.



SWAs currently rely on modernized agricultural wage reporting areas 
that are consistent with principles in ETA Handbook 385. This 
geographic area does not necessarily coincide with the AIE.\62\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \62\ See 84 FR 36168, 36187 (NPRM noting that while prevailing 
wages in the H-2B program are generally set based on the AIE, H-2A 
prevailing wage rates are generally set based on a larger geographic 
area).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In completing the updated Form ETA-232, the SWA must explain how 
the surveyor determined the geographic area to survey. This final rule 
lists factors that guide this selection, namely available resources, 
the size of the agricultural population covered by the survey, and 
different wage structures in the crop or agricultural activity within 
the State. To use the ``size of the agricultural population'' as an 
example, this factor may affect the scope of the surveyed area because 
of the need for sufficient survey responses. A surveyor may undertake a 
survey in one selected area that yields an insufficient response. In 
such cases, the surveyor can decide to increase the survey area and 
either make a reasonable, good faith effort to contact all employers 
employing workers in the crop or agricultural activity in the expanded 
area, or contact a new, randomly selected sample of such employers in 
the expanded area.
    In response to the agent's comment, the Department disagrees that 
this provision would permit SWAs to survey ``truncated'' areas based 
only on available resources. First, the commenter did not explain what 
constitutes a ``truncated'' area. Current practice, as noted above, 
permits a SWA to survey areas of different sizes based on 
considerations such as available resources.\63\ Second, this provision 
does not permit a surveyor to base its selection of the geographic area 
on only one factor. Instead, the surveyor must consider all three 
factors enumerated in the provision. Third, the Department will 
continue to review and approve SWA survey plans under this final rule, 
and the Department can work with SWAs to accommodate resource 
considerations while ensuring planned surveys are as reliable as 
possible.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \63\ See also TEGL No. 21-20, Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Foreign 
Labor Certification Grant Planning Guidance, at III-10 (May 10, 
2021).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

x. Section 655.120(c)(1)(vii) Through (ix)
    The Department proposed that the survey must include the wages of 
at least 30 U.S. workers and five employers, and the wages paid by a 
single employer must represent no more than 25 percent of the wages 
included in the survey. The NPRM stated the 30-worker standard is 
consistent with minimum reporting numbers for the OEWS and requirements 
for H-2B PWDs.\64\ The requirement to include wage data from at least 
five employers is a change from ETA Handbook 385, which does not have a 
minimum number of employers that must be included in the survey. The 
five-employer standard also exceeds the number of employers (three) 
required to establish prevailing wage rates under the H-2B program. As 
explained in the NPRM, prevailing wages in the H-2B program based on 
the OEWS are generally set based on the local AIE, but H-2A prevailing 
wages are typically determined based on a larger geographic area, and 
this difference in geographic area makes a higher number of employer 
responses appropriate for the H-2A program. Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \64\ 84 FR 36168, 36187 (noting BLS requires wage information 
from a minimum of 30 workers before it deems data of sufficient 
quality to publish on its website); Sec.  655.10(f)(4)(ii) 
(employer-provided surveys for the H-2B program must include wage 
data from at least 30 workers and three employers).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department also proposed that the wages paid by a single 
employer represent no more than 25 percent of the sampled wages so that 
the prevailing wage is not unduly impacted by the wages of a dominant 
employer. The NPRM stated the five-employer and 25 percent dominance 
standards are consistent with the ``safety zone'' standards for 
exchanges of employer wage information established by the Department of 
Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the antitrust 
context. Specifically, absent extraordinary circumstances, DOJ or FTC 
will not challenge as a violation of antitrust law the exchange of 
information regarding employer wages that meet the requirements for the 
safety zone. Although created for a different purpose, the safety zone 
standards establish levels at which the DOJ and FTC determined an 
exchange of wage information is sufficiently anonymized to prevent the 
wages of a single employer from being identified because the reported 
wage results too closely track the wages paid by that employer. The 
NPRM explained it is the Department's preliminary conclusion that 
safety zone standards are consistent with the Department's aim of 
requiring that the wages reported from a prevailing wage survey be 
sufficiently representative and that the wages of a single employer not 
drive the wage result. The Department solicited comments on the 
proposed requirements in Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(vii) through (ix), 
including whether the proposed sample size requirements, and any 
recommended alternative requirements, should apply to the survey, 
overall, or to the prevailing unit of pay. The Department also sought 
comment on the proposed statistical standards and any alternate 
standards that might be used to meet the Department's goals of 
establishing prevailing wage rates that are as reliable as possible but 
still consistent with the realities of a modern budget environment. 
After full consideration of the comments, the Department is adopting 
the proposals in Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(vii) through (ix) with amendments 
to the regulatory text, as explained below.
    Several commenters representing employers, agents, and trade 
associations expressed concern that the sample size requirements were 
too small to be representative. For example, a trade association said 
30 workers from five employers could set the prevailing wage for 
``possibly thousands of workers and hundreds of employers'' and urged 
the Department to expand the thresholds to ``a reasonable percentage of 
workers and employers,'' without explanation of what might constitute a 
reasonable percentage. Similarly, an agent urged the Department to 
consider a broader sample size while another association recommended 
the use of a statistically valid sample size, claiming the ``breadth 
and scope of agricultural employment'' exceeds the scope of PWDs under 
the H-2B program. In contrast, a commenter from academia and a SWA 
supported smaller sample sizes as a way to produce more PWDs. The SWA 
also believed it would eliminate the SWA's responsibility to estimate 
the universe of employers and workers. A State agency association 
asserted, without additional explanation, that requiring specific 
minimum response rates should increase the validity of surveys.
    The Department does not agree with comments that claimed larger 
minimum sample sizes are necessary to produce accurate and 
representative PWDs. No commenter asserted that the Handbook's much 
larger sample sizes were necessary, and no commenter proposed an 
alternative required worker or employer sample size that would be 
necessary to produce a reliable survey. The NPRM explained that the 
proposed sample size requirements were consistent with the OEWS survey 
requirements, as well as the ``safety zone'' standards used by the DOJ 
and FTC in the anti-trust context, points that no commenter 
specifically refuted. As stated in the NPRM, the Department has used a 
baseline of three employers and



30 workers for employer-provided wage surveys in the H-2B program since 
the 2015 H-2B Final Rule (80 FR 24146). In recognition that H-2A 
prevailing wage rates are generally set based on a larger geographic 
area than prevailing wages in the H-2B program, the Department proposed 
to increase the number of employer responses from three under the H-2B 
program to five under the H-2A program. The Department also proposed 
the 25 percent standard as an additional safeguard to ensure prevailing 
wages are as reliable as possible. With regard to the SWA's comment, 
the surveyor must still estimate the universe of relevant employers and 
workers under this final rule, as discussed in the preamble to Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(iv).
    A workers' rights advocacy organization stated it may be difficult 
for SWAs to meet the minimum thresholds for survey areas that are 
smaller than the State level due to high employer non-response rates. 
Another workers' rights advocacy organization said random sampling of 
reforestation and pine straw workers may be difficult because such 
workers are hard to reach, lists of relevant employers or contractors 
are likely unavailable, and employers are often reluctant to respond to 
surveys. As explained elsewhere in the preamble, the Department has 
declined to adopt the proposal to expand the definition of 
``agricultural labor or services'' under Sec.  655.103(c) to include 
reforestation and pine straw activities. The comment related to surveys 
of forestry worker wages is therefore no longer applicable. Moreover, 
the area surveyed may need to be expanded if the surveyor is not able 
to obtain wage results for at least five employers and 30 workers. If 
the estimated universe is less than five employers or 30 workers, a 
surveyor may use the alternative option described below or expand the 
area surveyed as needed.
    The Department solicited, but did not receive, comments on whether 
the baseline standards should apply to responses received for the 
survey overall or the prevailing unit of pay. However, after due 
consideration, the Department has decided to clarify that the baseline 
standards apply to survey responses received for the unit of pay that 
is used to compensate the largest number of workers whose wages are 
reported in the survey. Because the prevailing wage is determined based 
only on wage data within the prevailing unit of pay, the baseline 
standards should also apply to that unit of pay to increase the 
reliability of the survey findings as much as possible. Especially when 
there are multiple units of pay and a small number of employers or 
workers in the universe, this approach could require surveyors to 
increase the overall sample size and may result in fewer survey 
findings than if the baseline standards applied to the survey overall. 
However, the Department believes this approach best achieves its goal 
of establishing prevailing wage rates that are as reliable and accurate 
as possible, while still encouraging more prevailing wage surveys than 
under the Handbook.
    Based on the above comments and the Department's further assessment 
of past prevailing wage surveys, the Department recognizes the 
estimated universe of employers or workers may be very small for some 
crop or agricultural activities and distinct work task(s) in a 
geographic area. For example, some distinct work tasks or activities in 
a particular area may have one or two employers in the estimated 
universe. In such a situation, applying the 25 percent or 5-employer 
standard would mean there can never be a prevailing wage finding for 
this task or activity, unless the number of employers in the estimated 
universe increases. Similarly, the estimated universe of workers 
employed to perform particular distinct work tasks or activities may be 
less than 30 in some cases. Applying the 30-worker standard would not 
result in a wage determination, unless the number of workers in the 
estimated universe increased.
    As such, the Department has decided to revise the regulatory text 
to address the limited situations where the estimated universe of 
employers or workers is less than the baseline standards, while leaving 
the baseline standards unchanged in other situations. For example, 
where the estimated universe of U.S. workers is at least 30, the survey 
must include the wages of at least 30 U.S. workers in the unit of pay 
used to compensate the largest number of U.S. workers whose wages are 
reported in the survey. In situations where the estimated universe of 
U.S. workers is less than 30, the survey must include the wages of all 
such U.S. workers. Similarly, where the estimated universe of employers 
is fewer than five, this final rule requires the survey to include wage 
data from all employers in the estimated universe. Finally, the 25 
percent standard will apply where the estimated universe of employers 
is four or more, but will not apply when the estimated number of 
employers in the universe is less than four. These revised requirements 
encourage additional prevailing wage findings and are consistent with 
the Department's goal of producing prevailing wage survey results that 
are as representative as possible by requiring the PWD to be based on 
data from all workers or employers where the universe of workers or 
employers is limited.
xi. Other Comments on Sec.  655.120(c)(1)
Special Procedures for Sheep Shearing and Reforestation Employers
    Commenters including a trade association urged the Department to 
promulgate a provision allowing regional or national prevailing wage 
surveys for the sheep shearing industry because ``there are not enough 
shearers in any one area'' to establish a piece rate wage through a 
valid survey. According to the association, the survey instrument used 
should be able to account for differing types of shearing services in 
different regions, which result in separate wage rates. The association 
stated some regions have a larger number of ``small flock'' or ``farm 
flock'' sheep producers whose operations typically have smaller numbers 
of sheep than commercial producers, resulting in a higher ``per head'' 
price and wage than for a commercial producer.
    The Department declines to adopt the commenters' suggestion because 
it does not believe that a variance in the form of a separate provision 
is needed for prevailing wage surveys for the sheep shearing industry. 
This is because the commenters' concerns can be addressed through other 
requirements in this final rule. As discussed in the preamble to Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(iii) and (vi), this final rule allows for regional 
prevailing wage surveys that are able to capture distinct work tasks as 
applicable. It is also possible to obtain a prevailing wage for 
activities with a small number of estimated workers under circumstances 
explained in the preamble to Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(vii) through (ix). 
Lastly, as noted in the preamble to Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(iv), the 
surveyor has the option to conduct a statistically valid sampling or 
stratified random sampling by employer size, though these enhanced 
sampling methods are not required.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization recommended the Department 
use the QCEW to set prevailing wages for reforestation workers in the 
short term on the basis that this data source counts reforestation 
workers more accurately than the OEWS surveys. Because reforestation is 
not covered in the H-2A program under this final rule, the workers' 
rights advocacy



organization's comment is no longer applicable.\65\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \65\ Moreover, the Department has addressed the use of the QCEW 
as a wage source for the H-2A program above and in prior rulemaking. 
See 2020 H-2A AEWR Final Rule, 85 FR 70445, 70446 n.6.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rescission of ETA Handbook 385
    An agent and a trade association supported what they believed to be 
the Department's proposal to ``rescind'' ETA Handbook 385. A State 
agency urged DOL to update ETA Handbook 385 to conform to the new 
regulations or provide supplemental guidance. Two other State agencies 
and a State agency association supported replacing the Handbook.
    This final rule does not formally rescind ETA Handbook 385, but 
SWAs and other surveyors must follow the methodological requirements in 
Sec.  655.120(c) when conducting prevailing wage surveys. In this way, 
the survey standards in Sec.  655.120(c) replace the standards in ETA 
Handbook 385 for H-2A prevailing wage surveys. This final rule 
clarifies, however, that SWAs and other surveyors may refer to the 
Handbook and other applicable authorities for additional guidance on 
issues related to the prevailing wage survey methodology not explicitly 
addressed in the Department's regulations at 20 CFR part 655, subpart 
B, and 29 CFR part 501.
Data Collection Period
    The NPRM did not propose a required wage data collection period. In 
particular, the Department did not propose requiring or prohibiting 
SWAs from capturing the wages paid to workers during the ``peak'' 
period of a crop or agricultural activity, rather than the wages paid 
over a season or a year. Several employers and trade associations urged 
the Department to require surveys cover a longer period than a peak 
week. According to the commenters, surveying a peak period ``spike[s]'' 
the results and does not produce prevailing wage findings that measure 
wages paid over a season or a year.
    After consideration of the comments, the Department declines to 
adopt the commenters' suggestion. There is no requirement that surveys 
cover a longer time period to measure the wages paid over a season or a 
year. While ETA Handbook 385 directs SWAs to estimate the beginning and 
end of the harvest for each crop and the ``period of peak activity'' 
for State grant plans, SWAs need not include that information in 
reporting prevailing wage rate results. Recent guidance no longer 
direct SWAs to identify the period of ``peak activity,'' nor even the 
anticipated start and end dates for the harvest of each crop, but 
simply request SWAs provide an anticipated timeframe for the prevailing 
wage survey.\66\ The requirement suggested by the commenters could 
further deter employers from responding to the survey, given the length 
of a season or a year and the possible number of unique wage rates paid 
during that time that an employer would have to report. It would also 
likely increase the cost of survey administration for SWAs or other 
State surveyors, without a corresponding compelling justification for 
such an increase.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \66\ See, e.g., TEGL No. 21-20, Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Foreign 
Labor Certification Grant Planning Guidance, at III-10 (May 10, 
2021).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In response to the comments received, this final rule clarifies 
that SWAs continue to have discretion over when to conduct wage surveys 
and the data collection period. This is because SWAs or other State 
entities are best positioned to determine the most effective data 
collection period. To the extent it is helpful, the Department 
recommends the use of a peak week or peak period. A peak week is 
generally defined as the week where a commodity activity is the 
busiest. For harvesting, it would be when an agricultural employer is 
doing the most harvesting for a given commodity. Some surveys may 
gather data from a peak period of time that is longer than a week. The 
use of a peak week or period can afford several advantages. It allows, 
for example, the collection of data when the most workers are working 
in order to obtain the most robust amount of data. However, the use of 
a peak period is not required and may not be appropriate in all cases. 
For instance, some activities such as irrigation do not have a clearly 
defined peak week.
Presumption of Validity
    A workers' rights advocacy organization suggested that as long as 
SWAs follow the defined procedures to carry out a prevailing wage 
survey, the findings should enjoy a presumption of validity. After 
consideration, the Department declines to adopt the commenter's 
suggestion. OFLC will review the prevailing wage survey documentation 
submitted by a SWA to ensure that the survey satisfies the enumerated 
requirements in Sec.  655.120(c). If these requirements are met, OFLC 
will issue a prevailing wage for the crop or agricultural activity or 
distinct work task(s) in question. Based on this regulatory scheme--
which continues the Department's current practice--a presumption of 
validity is not needed and would instead cut against the comprehensive 
review requested by other commenters.
Timelines for Prevailing Wage Determinations
    A SWA suggested adding a requirement that OFLC issue a PWD within 
10 days of the SWA's submission of a survey to the Department. The SWA 
also requested the Department add a regulatory provision requiring OFLC 
to notify the SWA of any irregularities or deficiencies in the survey 
within the same 10-day period so the SWA may make corrections 
expeditiously. After consideration of the SWA's comments, the 
Department declines to adopt these recommendations. The Department did 
not propose to set timeframes or solicit comments on setting timeframes 
for the prevailing wage survey review and approval process and, 
therefore, the SWA's recommendations are beyond the scope of this 
rulemaking. The Department understands the importance of timely review 
and communication and it strives to review the surveys it receives in 
an expeditious manner. Imposition of a maximum period to review 
prevailing wage surveys, however, would undermine the Department's 
ability to conduct a thorough review without a corresponding compelling 
justification. In particular, the SWA's suggested timeframe would 
create an impediment to the type of comprehensive review needed to 
ensure prevailing wage surveys satisfy all methodological requirements, 
especially in cases where OFLC requests additional information from 
SWAs in order to complete its review.
Piece Rate and Wage Enforcement Suggestions
    Because Sec.  655.120(c) discusses the use of piece rates, some 
commenters took the opportunity to suggest changes to how piece rates 
are treated within the H-2A program. A workers' rights advocacy 
organization recommended the Department make explicit that the employer 
must pay workers by the piece, rather than by the hour or using another 
method, if the prevailing wage is a piece rate and payment of the 
prevailing piece rate would yield a higher average hourly rate than the 
AEWR. A trade association stated the Department does not include hourly 
guarantees when reporting prevailing wages by piece rates and asserted 
this is contrary to standards in ETA Handbook 385. The association 
added that the Department does not recognize that a piece rate with an 
AEWR hourly



guarantee (e.g., $25 bin rate with a $16.34 per hour guarantee) differs 
from a piece rate with a State minimum wage hourly guarantee (e.g., $25 
bin rate with a $13.69 per hour guarantee).
    The Department's proposed changes to the prevailing wage 
methodology under revised Sec.  655.120(c) did not intend to change the 
prior application of the offered wage provision at Sec.  655.120(a) or 
the longstanding procedures for the regulation of piece rates. As such, 
the workers' rights advocacy organization's suggestion that the 
Department make explicit that an employer must pay workers by the 
piece, rather than by the hour or using another method, if the 
prevailing wage is a piece rate and payment of the prevailing piece 
rate would yield a higher average hourly rate than the AEWR, is beyond 
the scope of the Department's proposal. The trade association's comment 
does not specify if the reporting it references is the Department's 
posting of prevailing wages to the Agricultural Online Wage Library 
(AOWL). To the extent the comment is referring to the posting of 
prevailing wages on AOWL, the Department reports piece rates that 
contain an hourly guarantee for a crop or agricultural activity or a 
distinct work task(s) within this activity when such a rate is reported 
by a SWA and validated by the Department. These piece rates with an 
hourly guarantee can represent different units of pay under certain 
circumstances, as discussed below.
    Moreover, as relevant to both comments, the Department posts 
prevailing wage rates on AOWL, not wage information from all applicable 
sources an H-2A employer must consider when evaluating whether its wage 
offer meets H-2A requirements under Sec. Sec.  655.120(a) and 
655.122(l). When the prevailing wage rate is hourly, an H-2A employer 
must compare this hourly rate to the other wage sources listed in Sec.  
655.120(a) to determine which is the highest and ensure that its wage 
offer is at least equal to the highest applicable hourly rate. 
Similarly, in limited situations where a prevailing wage rate is a 
piece rate in combination with an hourly guarantee (e.g., $25 bin rate 
with a $16 per hour guarantee), the H-2A employer must still engage in 
the comparison of other wage sources and ensure that it offers an 
hourly wage guarantee that is at least equal to the highest applicable 
hourly rate. As a result, an H-2A employer may be required to offer at 
least the prevailing piece rate (e.g., $25 bin rate) and an hourly wage 
guarantee (e.g., $16.34 per hour guarantee, the applicable AEWR) that 
is higher than the hourly guarantee listed in the PWD. To the extent 
either commenter is suggesting the Department add all or some other 
wage sources to the AOWL, the Department declines to adopt this 
suggestion, as it could increase, rather than decrease, confusion.
    The same workers' rights advocacy organization proposed requiring 
the employer to attest that neither U.S. nor H-2A workers will be paid 
at a piece or hourly wage that is less than the rate that was paid for 
comparable work performed at that location in the prior season, or that 
is being offered by other employers in the AIE. The organization also 
requested that the regulations clarify the Department will review and 
require a change to the rate of pay after certification if presented 
with worker complaints or ``clear, persuasive evidence'' that the H-2A 
employer is paying less than the prevailing wage based on information 
such as UI data and job service listings.
    The Department declines to adopt these recommended changes. The 
Department did not propose or solicit comments on requiring an 
attestation that wages are not less than those paid for comparable work 
in the prior season. In addition, the commenter's suggestion would add 
a wage source to those listed in Sec.  655.120(a), which is a change 
the Department similarly did not propose in the NPRM. This suggestion 
is therefore outside the scope of the Department's rulemaking. This 
final rule requires that H-2A employers pay H-2A workers and workers in 
corresponding employment the highest of wage sources listed in Sec.  
655.120(a)--in particular, the higher of the AEWR and the prevailing 
wage rate approved by OFLC, as applicable--and thus already includes a 
prevailing wage concept intended to ensure that H-2A employers pay at 
least those wages found to be prevailing in the area, where applicable. 
While the specific change requested by the commenter's second 
suggestion is unclear, the Department notes that its program integrity 
measures provide for review and enforcement of H-2A wage requirements. 
In the event of an audit, OFLC reviews an employer's payroll 
information. When WHD conducts its investigations, it will enforce the 
appropriate wage rate for the work performed even when an employer 
misrepresented the duties on its application or employed workers in 
classifications not listed on its application. In the event an audit or 
investigation discovers substantial violations, OFLC or WHD may pursue 
debarment of the employer.
xii. Section 655.120(c)(2)
    The Department proposed that a prevailing wage rate remain valid 
for 1 year after the wage is posted on the OFLC website or until 
replaced with an adjusted prevailing wage, whichever comes first, 
except that if a prevailing wage that was guaranteed on the job order 
expires during the contract period, the employer must continue to 
guarantee at least the expired prevailing wage rate. As the Department 
explained in the NPRM, this proposal is generally consistent with 
OFLC's current practice. See 84 FR 36168, 36188. The NPRM solicited 
comments on this proposal, including whether an alternate duration for 
the validity of prevailing wage surveys would better meet the 
Department's goals of basing prevailing wage rates on the most recent 
data and making prevailing wage findings available where the prevailing 
wage rate would be higher than the AEWR. The NPRM also sought comment 
on whether the Department should index prevailing wage rates based on 
either the CPI or Employment Cost Index (ECI) when the OFLC 
Administrator issued a prevailing wage rate in one year for a crop or 
agricultural activity but a prevailing wage finding is not available in 
a subsequent year, and whether the Department should set limits on the 
age of the survey data. As discussed below, paragraph (c)(2) is adopted 
without change from the NPRM.
    Commenters generally supported the proposed 1-year validity period. 
A few commenters including trade associations recommended that a 
prevailing wage ``expire on its anniversary,'' without clarifying if 
``anniversary'' referred to the date the wage was posted by OFLC. 
Another trade association stated, without additional explanation, that 
the Department should not use surveys that include data older than 12 
months. Citing the current ``dynamic'' business environment, other 
commenters suggested the Department should not use surveys that include 
data collected more than 6 months prior to the wage determination. One 
of these commenters claimed, without additional explanation, that such 
data should be excluded due to a limited pool of workers and variations 
in commodity markets, weather changes, and other variables.
    Several of these commenters also provided general suggestions 
regarding indexing prevailing wage rates between determinations. Some 
commenters recommended that prevailing wage rates not be indexed based 
on the CPI or ECI when the prevailing wage finding is not



available, without explaining why prevailing wages should not be 
indexed based on these sources. Other commenters suggested that if the 
Department is considering indexing the prevailing wage rate to any 
metric, it should consider metrics that ``reflect the agricultural 
economy such as wholesale or retail fruit and vegetable prices.'' None 
of these commenters provided additional explanation.
    After consideration of these comments, the Department has decided 
to adopt the validity period provision as proposed. Under this final 
rule, a prevailing wage will expire either 1 year after OFLC posts the 
wage or on the date an adjusted prevailing wage is issued, whichever is 
earliest. This change is consistent with the specific comments on the 
1-year validity period, based on the information provided in those 
comments. The Department declines to adopt the suggestion to exclude 
data older than 6 months from prevailing wage findings. The commenters 
did not explain why survey findings must exclude such data, beyond a 
general reference to the ``dynamic'' business environment and broad 
variables in that environment. Nor did the commenters provide evidence 
suggesting the exclusion of data older than 6 months is necessary for a 
survey to yield more accurate results or otherwise be an efficient use 
of a SWA's limited resources. Instead, the commenters' suggestion could 
elevate form over function--for example, excluding data that are 6\1/2\ 
months old--and may unnecessarily preclude States from producing a 
valid PWD. The commenters' suggestion is also at odds with the 
Department's intent to establish survey results that are as reliable as 
possible using standards that are realistic for SWAs in a modern budget 
environment. If adopted, the commenters' suggestion would impose more 
onerous data requirements on SWAs than those mandated by OFLC's prior 
guidance on prevailing wage surveys and OFLC's current requirements for 
employer-provided surveys under the H-2B program.\67\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \67\ See 2015 H-2B Final Rule, 80 FR 24146, 24175 (requiring the 
wages reported in employer-provided surveys in the H-2B program be 
no more than 24 months old).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department has decided not to adopt the suggestion to index the 
prevailing wage rate to address subsequent years in which a prevailing 
wage finding is not available. The commenters either did not provide 
any recommendation for index sources or did not address why a 
particular index would be sufficient to accurately reflect the 
prevailing wages of similarly employed workers. Without additional 
information, it is not clear what existing metric, if any, would 
reflect the information the commenters believed should be considered, 
and it is therefore difficult to evaluate the feasibility or 
desirability of this type of indexing for SWA prevailing wage survey 
findings.
xiii. Section 655.120(c)(3)
    The current regulation at Sec.  655.120(b) requires the employer to 
pay a higher prevailing wage upon notice to the employer by the 
Department.\68\ The Department's current practice is to publish 
prevailing wage rates on its website and directly contact employers 
covered by a higher prevailing wage. In the NPRM, the Department 
proposed to continue this current practice of notifying employers 
directly. The Department also proposed that new higher prevailing wage 
rates would become effective 14 days after notification, which 
paralleled the Department's proposal to codify current practice of 
providing an adjustment period of up to 14 days to start paying a newly 
issued higher AEWR. Although the January 2021 draft final rule would 
have adopted the 14-day proposal for prevailing wages, this final rule 
does not adopt the proposal for the reasons discussed below, but it 
otherwise adopts the proposed language from the NPRM with minor 
conforming changes.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \68\ This provision, codified at Sec.  655.120(b) under the 2010 
H-2A Final Rule, was redesignated as paragraph (c) in the 2020 H-2A 
AEWR Final Rule. See 85 FR 70445, 70477.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    An employer and trade association stated a 14-day effective date is 
an improvement over the current requirement for prevailing wages. An 
agent and another trade association commented that 14 days do not allow 
employers adequate time to plan for costs, especially if there is a 
``significant increase'' in wages. A SWA opposed the 14-day proposal on 
the basis that workers can be deprived of up to 2 weeks of pay to which 
they are entitled. Instead, the SWA suggested that employers should pay 
any increases retroactively, such as in the pay period after the new 
wage becomes effective, to alleviate potential burdens associated with 
adjusting wages mid-pay period.
    In response to comments that even 14 days is not enough time for 
employers to plan for costs, the H-2A regulations already require the 
employer to pay a higher wage if the prevailing wage rate is adjusted 
during the work contract and the new adjusted wage is higher than the 
required wage at the time of certification. The NPRM retained this 
underlying requirement, which employers have been able to follow since 
2010, while proposing to provide employers a brief period to adjust to 
a higher wage. When the Department added the provision to account for 
an increase in prevailing wages during a contract period, it recognized 
these wage adjustments may alter employer budgets for the season. See 
2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6901. As the Department explained at 
that time, the change is intended to ensure workers are paid throughout 
the life of their contracts at an appropriate wage, and the Department 
encouraged employers to include into their contingency planning certain 
flexibility to account for any possible wage adjustments. Id.
    After further consideration of the comments and in conformity with 
its decision not to adopt a 14-day adjustment period in connection with 
the AEWR, the Department declines to adopt the proposed delayed 
implementation of a prevailing wage update to workers' pay. The 14-day 
grace period proposal was intended to help ensure workers are paid at 
an appropriate wage throughout the life of their contracts while giving 
employers a brief window for updating their payroll systems and to 
simplify the program through the adoption of consistent adjustment 
periods for wage-related updates. The Department is sensitive both to 
the worker protection concerns the SWA raised and to adopting an 
approach that could add complexity, which is inconsistent with the 
Department's goals in this rulemaking to enhance worker protections 
while simplifying the program to facilitate compliance and 
administration. As such, the Department has decided against adopting 
the proposed adjustment period for prevailing wage updates in this 
final rule. Not adopting the proposal maintains current prevailing wage 
adjustment requirements, which help ensure workers are paid at an 
appropriate wage upon notification of a new, higher wage obligation.
xiv. Section 655.120(c)(4)
    The NPRM proposed that if the prevailing wage is adjusted during 
the contract period and is higher than the previous certified offered 
wage rate, the employer must pay the higher wage rate, but may not 
lower the wage rate if OFLC issues a prevailing wage that is lower than 
the offered wage rate. This proposed change discontinues the current 
practice permitting employers to include a clause in the job order 
stating that it may reduce the offered wage rate if an adjustment 
during the contract



period reduces the highest wage rate among all applicable wage sources. 
The NPRM also proposed to remove language from Sec.  655.120(b) that 
requires an employer to pay the wage ``in effect at the time work is 
performed'' because the presence of that reference may create confusion 
about the existing requirement to continue to pay a previously offered 
wage if the new ``effective'' wage is lower. As discussed below, this 
final rule adopts paragraph (c)(4) as proposed in the NPRM except for a 
minor conforming change.
    The Department received comments from various entities, including 
employers, trade associations, and agents, in response to this 
provision. Many employer and trade associations opposed the 
Department's current requirement mandating mid-contract wage 
adjustments if a new prevailing wage rate is higher than the required 
wage at the time of certification. Commenters explained, for example, 
that mid-season increases make planning impossible, are not fair to 
employers, and the government should not require employers to change a 
contract after it has been ``approved.'' A trade association stated it 
may not be possible to verify the sources of the wage data with no 
ability to challenge these data under the final rule. An agent and 
another trade association commented there is no valid basis to require 
payment of a higher wage that is not the AEWR if the AEWR is supposed 
to represent the exact wage that protects U.S. workers at that time. 
Other commenters offered four alternatives to the Department's 
proposal, including (1) allowing employers to pay the rate(s) listed in 
a certified application for the duration of the employment period 
(i.e., a fixed wage with no upward adjustments); (2) authorizing 
downward wage adjustments; (3) permitting an annual adjustment of 
prevailing wage rates on a date certain; and (4) placing limitations on 
in-season prevailing wage increases, including a 10-percent cap. One of 
these commenters recommended the notice provided by the Department to 
the employer regarding ``changes in wages be adequate to hand out to 
workers to meet the disclosure requirement.''
    Having carefully considered the comments received, the Department 
has decided to retain this provision with a minor change to the 
regulatory text to recognize that there may be a prevailing wage for a 
distinct work task or tasks within a crop or agricultural activity in 
certain situations. This modification is a technical, conforming change 
with other portions of Sec.  655.120(c). Under this provision, because 
the employer advertised and offered the higher wage rate, the wage 
cannot be reduced below the wage already offered and agreed to in the 
work contract. Accordingly, if a prevailing wage for a geographic area 
and crop activity or agricultural activity and, if applicable, distinct 
work task(s) is adjusted during the work contract, and the new 
prevailing wage is lower than the rate guaranteed on the job order, the 
employer must continue to pay at least the offered wage rate. Employers 
who disagree with a wage adjustment after their applications have been 
certified can continue to challenge the adjustment in Federal court.
    The Department does not agree with the comment claiming there is no 
valid basis to require payment of a higher wage when that wage is not 
the AEWR. Employers participating in the H-2A program must offer and 
pay the highest of the AEWR, the prevailing wage, the Federal or State 
minimum wage, or the agreed-upon collectively bargained wage rate, as 
applicable, for every hour or portion worked during a pay period. See 
Sec. Sec.  655.120(a) (excluding certain employment), 655.122(l). The 
wage adjustment provisions are intended to ensure that workers in the 
program consistently receive at least the highest of these applicable 
wages, whether that wage be the AEWR, the prevailing wage, or another 
wage source listed in Sec.  655.120(a). Moreover, PWDs determined by 
State-conducted prevailing wage surveys for a particular geographic 
area can serve as an important additional protection for workers in the 
United States in crop and agricultural activities with piece rates or 
higher hourly rates of pay than the AEWR. In such instances, the wage 
adjustment provisions ensure the wages received by applicable workers 
reflect the wage paid to similarly employed workers in that area.
    The Department declines to adopt the suggested alternatives, as 
they are not sufficient to ensure workers are paid at an appropriate 
wage commensurate with the baseline market value of their services 
throughout the life of their contracts. In addition, an annual 
adjustment of prevailing wage rates on a certain date each year is not 
in line with current practice. States do not conduct prevailing wage 
surveys at the same time each year in all cases, and consequently, OFLC 
validates PWDs throughout the year. The NPRM did not propose to change 
this practice. The Department also declines to adopt proposals to 
impose a 10-percent cap and similar limitations on PWDs. The Department 
establishes wages based on data representing actual wages paid to 
workers, including prevailing wages based on wages paid to U.S. workers 
in a particular geographic area and crop or agricultural activity and 
if applicable, distinct work task(s). The commenter did not provide a 
sufficient economic rationale to impose a cap that is unrelated to 
employer costs or wages paid and such a cap would produce wage 
stagnation, most significantly in years when the wages of U.S. workers 
are rising faster due to strong economic and labor market 
circumstances.
    The agent's comment regarding the use of notice(s) of wage 
adjustment to satisfy ``the disclosure requirement'' did not specify 
the disclosure requirement to which the comment referred. To the extent 
the comment refers to the MSPA disclosure requirements under 29 U.S.C. 
1821 and 1831 and 29 CFR 500.75 and 500.76, OFLC's notice to the 
employer of prevailing wage rate adjustment(s) may be sufficient to 
satisfy the required disclosure of wage rates under MSPA (provided 
that, if multiple wage adjustments are included in the notice, it is 
clear which applies to the specific worker), but will not satisfy the 
required disclosure of other information, such as the place or period 
of employment. See 29 U.S.C. 1821, 1831; 29 CFR 500.75, 500.76. Without 
additional information, however, the Department cannot assess the 
agent's recommendation and, therefore, is unable to adopt the 
recommendation.
d. Section 655.120(d) Appeals
    Although the Department employs the same Notice of Deficiency (NOD) 
and appeal framework regardless of the deficiency noted in an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification, the NPRM proposed 
to include an appeal provision at paragraph (d) for clarity. 
Specifically, if an employer does not include an appropriate offered 
wage on the H-2A application, the CO will issue a NOD requiring the 
employer to correct the wage offer. Such a situation may occur, for 
example, when the employer offers less than the highest of the sources 
applicable to the job opportunity under Sec.  655.120(a) because it 
selected an incorrect SOC code for the job opportunity. If the employer 
disagrees with the wage rate associated with the SOC required by the CO 
and does not correct the wage offer in its response to the NOD, the 
application will be denied, and the employer may appeal the denial of 
its application on this basis (and other bases noted in the denial, as 
applicable) by following the appeal procedures at Sec.  655.171. As 
discussed below, this provision remains unchanged from the NPRM.



    The Department received several comments on this proposal. An 
employer expressed concern that an employer who disagrees with the 
required wage rate cannot appeal unless its application is denied. A 
trade association expressed concern that the proposal adds 
inefficiencies to the program and affects employers' due process 
rights, and it claimed that applications would have to be denied based 
on a factor other than the wage in order to be appealed.
    As the Department explains below in the preamble to Sec.  655.141, 
the removal of the ability to appeal a NOD better conforms with the 
statutory requirements under the INA. This change also helps to promote 
efficiency by providing that all possible grounds for denial are 
appealed at once, rather than allowing for separate appeals of multiple 
issues. The appeal process continues to include an expedited 
administrative review procedure, or an expedited de novo hearing at the 
employer's request, in recognition of the INA's concern for prompt 
processing of H-2A applications. Further, it is not true that an 
employer's application has to be denied based on a factor other than 
the wage in order for the employer to challenge a wage rate required by 
the CO. An employer that does not correct a wage deficiency--or any 
other deficiency--noted in a NOD, may appeal a denial on that basis 
(and any other bases noted in the denial, as applicable).
    A workers' rights advocacy organization noted SOC codes will be 
critical to determining the AEWR and the Department should allow the 
SWA to determine the appropriate code because SWAs, according to the 
organization, are the most knowledgeable about the different work in a 
certain agricultural industry in a geographic region. The organization 
requested that Sec.  655.120(d)(1) be revised so that either the SWA or 
the CO can issue a NOD requiring the employer to correct the offered 
wage rate on its application. This concern is misplaced. The NPRM did 
not propose to change the SWA's role in reviewing the offered wage rate 
and other information in an employer's job order for compliance with 20 
CFR part 653, subpart F, and 20 CFR part 655, subpart B. Compare Sec.  
655.121(b)(1) (2010 H-2A Final Rule) with Sec.  655.121(e)(2). 
Specifically, if the SWA notes any deficiencies with the job order, 
including with the offered wage rate or SOC code, it must notify the 
employer and offer the employer an opportunity to respond. See id. Upon 
receipt of a response, the SWA will review the response and notify the 
employer of its acceptance or denial of the job order. See id. After 
the employer files its Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification, whether under the emergency filing procedures at Sec.  
655.134 or the normal filing procedures at Sec.  655.130, the CO will 
review the employer's application. If the CO determines the application 
contains an incorrect offered wage rate, the CO will issue a NOD under 
Sec.  655.141 noting the incorrect rate, SOC code, and any other 
deficiencies that prevent certification, as applicable. See id.; Sec.  
655.120(d)(1). As such, the commenter's concern is addressed through 
the SWA's authority to review and respond to deficiencies in the job 
order, which this final rule retains in Sec. Sec.  655.121(e)(2) and 
655.134(c)(1).
    An agent proposed ``an appeal process in connection with the 
prevailing wages,'' without additional explanation. To the extent the 
commenter intended to address an employer's disagreement with, and 
appeal of, the CO's application of a particular PWD to an employer's 
job opportunity, such appeals are available in this final rule. See 
Sec. Sec.  655.120(d), 655.142(c). To the extent the commenter intended 
to suggest the Department implement an appeals procedure for PWDs set 
or adjusted in accordance with paragraph (c), the Department 
respectfully declines, as employers can continue to challenge PWDs and 
post-certification adjustments in Federal court.
    After consideration of these comments, the Department has retained 
the provision as proposed. This provision provides a process to appeal 
the required offered wage rate for an employer's job opportunity, both 
the CO's application of the wage sources in paragraph (a) and 
determination of which is highest. This process is consistent with 
other provisions in this final rule that add express authority for the 
CO to issue multiple NODs and to eliminate appeals of NODs. See 
Sec. Sec.  655.142(a), 655.141.
2. Section 655.121, Job Order Filing Requirements
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed amendments to this section to 
modernize the process by which employers submit job orders to the SWA 
for review and clearance in order to test the local labor market and 
determine the availability of U.S. workers before filing an Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification. Specifically, the Department 
proposed new standards and procedures requiring employers, unless a 
specific exemption applies, to electronically submit job orders to the 
NPC for processing; minor revisions to the timeframes and procedures 
under which the SWA reviews and circulates approved job orders for 
intrastate and interstate clearance; and reorganization of several 
existing provisions to provide clarity and conform to other changes 
proposed in the NPRM. The Department received several comments on this 
section, none of which necessitated substantive changes to the 
regulatory text. However, the Department's decision not to adopt the 
proposed optional pre-filing positive recruitment provision at Sec.  
655.123 necessitated the removal of the proposed pre-filing interstate 
job order circulation language from paragraph (f). Therefore, as 
discussed in detail below, the provisions of Sec.  655.121 remain 
unchanged from the NPRM, except for paragraph (f). The Department will 
retain the parameters of pre-filing job order circulation from the 2010 
H-2A Final Rule in paragraph (f), with minor revisions to conform to 
the electronic submission and transmission procedures adopted in this 
final rule, as discussed below.
a. Submission and Transmission of the Job Order
    The INA requires employers to engage in the recruitment of U.S. 
workers through the employment service job clearance system 
administered by the SWAs. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(b)(4); see also 29 U.S.C. 
49 et seq. and 20 CFR part 653, subpart F. The Department proposed to 
modernize and streamline the process by which employers submit job 
orders, H-2A Agricultural Clearance Order (Form ETA-790/790A), to the 
SWA for review and clearance to place job orders into intrastate and 
interstate clearance. Job orders are a required component of testing 
the labor market for the availability of U.S. workers before filing an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification. The Department 
proposed to require all job orders, Form ETA-790/790A, be signed with 
an electronic signature (i.e., an electronic (scanned) copy of the 
original signature or a verifiable electronic signature method, as 
directed by the OFLC Administrator) and submitted electronically to the 
NPC, using the electronic method(s) designated by the OFLC 
Administrator.
    Currently, the Department's FLAG system, available at https://flag.dol.gov, is the OFLC Administrator's designated electronic filing 
method. Only employers the OFLC Administrator authorizes to file by 
mail due to lack of internet access or using a reasonable accommodation 
due to a disability under the proposed procedures in Sec.  655.130(c) 
would be permitted to file



using those other means. Upon receipt in the electronic filing system, 
the NPC would transmit Form ETA-790/790A to the SWA serving the AIE for 
review. If the job opportunity is located in more than one State within 
the same AIE, the NPC would transmit a copy of the electronic job 
order, on behalf of the employer, to one of the SWAs with jurisdiction 
over the place(s) of employment for review.
    For job orders submitted to the NPC in connection with a future 
master application to be submitted under Sec.  655.131(a), the 
Department proposed the agricultural association would continue to 
submit a single Form ETA-790/790A in the name of the agricultural 
association as a joint employer. In the Form ETA-790A, as well as in 
the future Application for Temporary Employment Certification, the 
agricultural association would identify all employer-members by name.
    Where two or more employers are seeking to employ a worker or 
workers jointly, as permitted by Sec.  655.131(b) (i.e., joint 
employers other than an agricultural association and its employer-
members filing a master application under Sec.  655.131(a)), the 
Department proposed that any one of the employers may continue to 
submit the Form ETA-790/790A as long as all joint employers are named 
on the Form ETA-790A and the future Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification.
    Commenters generally expressed strong support for the proposals to 
modernize the job order filing process by requiring job orders to be 
signed electronically and submitted through the Department's electronic 
filing system, absent authorization to file by mail due to lack of 
internet access or using a reasonable accommodation due to a disability 
under the proposed procedures in Sec.  655.130(c). A SWA viewed the 
proposal as a way to improve program efficiency, eliminate paper 
applications, reduce errors, and streamline the job posting process, 
and a workers' rights advocacy organization agreed it may streamline 
the process and reduce paperwork burdens. The workers' rights advocacy 
organization and a trade association recognized it as a way to improve 
communication between agencies involved in H-2A processing and improve 
response times. Several associations stated the ability to submit the 
job order electronically and to pre-populate certain information for 
future job orders will help streamline the application process, while 
the utilization of standardized terms and conditions of employment on 
the form and electronic data checks will enhance the efficiency of the 
program for users.
    However, some commenters opposed the Department's proposal to 
require employers submit the Form ETA-790/790A to the NPC, rather than 
to the SWA directly. Some comments urged the Department to maintain the 
existing filing procedures and expressed concern the proposed change 
would strain OFLC resources, hinder the employer's ability to 
communicate directly with the SWAs, and transfer primary responsibility 
for job order review to the CO or otherwise diminish the role of the 
SWAs. Some commenters also asserted the Department failed to explain 
why this change was necessary and how it would improve the program.
    As explained in the NPRM, the Department determined the proposed 
changes, including submission to the NPC in the Department's electronic 
filing system, will modernize the job order filing process resulting in 
more efficient use of SWA and Department resources. The SWAs generally 
do not have adequate capacity to provide for the full electronic 
submission and management of agricultural job orders in the OMB-
approved format, which may create uncertainty for employers that need 
to submit job orders within regulatory timeframes. Further, given that 
an employer must provide a copy of the same job order to the NPC at the 
time of filing the Application for Temporary Employment Certification, 
the current job order filing process requires duplication of effort for 
employers, especially those with business operations covering large 
geographic areas that need to coordinate job order submissions with 
multiple SWAs; a single electronic submission location simplifies the 
application process. For the Department and SWAs, electronic submission 
of job orders to the NPC will decrease data entry, improve the speed 
with which job order information can be retrieved and shared, reduce 
staff time and storage costs, and improve storage security. Since the 
new Form ETA-790/790A will be stored electronically, it also eliminates 
the need for manual corrections of errors and other deficiencies and 
improves the efficiency of posting and maintaining approved job orders 
on the Department's electronic job registry. The Department therefore 
determined that this process will result in more efficient use of 
Department and SWA staff time.
    The most common concern among commenters with respect to the 
requirement to submit job orders to the NPC through the Department's 
electronic filing system, rather than to the SWA directly, related to 
potential delay in the SWA's receipt of the job order. Commenters 
expressed concern the proposal might not streamline the job order 
filing and distribution processes; rather, it might add a ``layer of 
bureaucracy,'' with the NPC serving as an unnecessary intermediary 
between employers and the SWAs and causing delays between NPC's receipt 
of a job order and its transmission of the job order to the SWAs. 
Commenters noted the NPRM did not impose deadlines by which the CO 
would be required to transmit the job orders to the SWAs, and an agent 
and workers' rights advocacy organization stressed the need for the SWA 
to receive the job order immediately. A few commenters specifically 
asked the Department to clarify whether the SWA will receive immediate 
notification and receipt of the job order submission and whether the 
employer will receive confirmation when the SWA receives the job order. 
One commenter urged the Department to create a shared platform for 
electronic submission of the job order that ensures the SWAs have 
access to the job order without requiring the NPC to provide the SWA 
notice of the submission. Several commenters also urged the Department 
to ensure the FLAG electronic filing and application processing system 
provide notice to employers when the SWA takes action on a job order. A 
workers' rights advocacy organization requested the Department provide 
an objectively measurable deadline by when the NPC must transmit job 
orders to SWAs, rather than the term ``promptly.'' \69\
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    \69\ This comment expressed concern with the term ``promptly'' 
in relation to the Department's proposal in paragraph (f) to begin 
interstate clearance after the SWA's approval of the job order, 
which the Department has not adopted, as discussed below. Both the 
commenter's underlying concern with the term ``promptly'' and the 
Department's response apply to the NPC's transmission of a job order 
to a SWA, regardless of whether the transmission is for initial 
review or related to interstate clearance, and regardless of whether 
the transmission occurs pre-filing under paragraph Sec.  655.121(f) 
or post-filing under Sec.  655.150(a); therefore, the Department 
acknowledges the comment here.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Under this final rule, there will be no duplication of processes 
and no delay between an employer's submission of a job order to the NPC 
and the SWA's access to the job order. As noted in the NPRM, the 
Department already provides the SWAs with access to OFLC's FLAG system 
to electronically communicate any deficiencies with job orders 
associated with employer-filed H-2A and H-2B applications and uploading 
inspection reports of employer housing. That access has been enhanced 
so the SWA has access to the job order in the FLAG system upon 
submission. As a



result, ``transmission'' of the job order from the NPC to the SWA in 
FLAG is automatic and virtually instantaneous. Once the employer 
submits the Form ETA-790/790A in the FLAG system, the FLAG system will 
notify the SWA of the new job order available for its review and will 
send the employer a confirmation email that includes a generated case 
number the employer can use to track the submitted job order. The SWA 
may also send email correspondence to the filer as needed. When the SWA 
issues a decision on the job order, the case status in the filer's 
queue will change to reflect that decision (e.g., NOD Issued, Job Order 
Approved, or Job Order Denied). In addition, if a job order is modified 
during processing of the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification, the CO will add a case note directed to the SWA, 
advising the SWA an amendment has been made to the job order that both 
the NPC and SWA may access.
    The Department also received several comments about Sec.  
655.121(e)(1) that suggested a mistaken belief the Department intended 
for the NPC to choose which SWA would receive the job order in cases 
where more than one SWA has jurisdiction over the AIE, rather than 
continuing to allow the employer to make that selection. Agents and 
agricultural associations urged the Department to continue to permit 
employers to choose the SWA, while a workers' rights advocacy 
organization urged the Department to provide specific criteria that the 
CO and employer must use to determine the SWA to receive the job order 
to guard against employers using their freedom of choice to avoid SWAs 
that have identified deficiencies in their past filings. The commenter 
recommended the Department require the CO to send the job order to the 
SWA with jurisdiction over the first work location under the contract, 
which it stated was important because positive recruitment is most 
likely to be effective in the State where work begins.
    Under this final rule, the employer will continue to identify the 
SWA to which its job order will be submitted for review under Sec.  
655.121. When an employer prepares and submits a job order in the FLAG 
system, the employer will be asked to identify the SWA to receive the 
job order by selecting a SWA from a drop-down list of SWAs with 
jurisdiction over that job order. The drop-down list will be consistent 
with the parameters at Sec.  655.121(e)(1): Where only one SWA has 
jurisdiction over the AIE, the drop-down list will include only one 
option; where more than one SWA has jurisdiction over the AIE (i.e., 
the AIE crosses State lines), the drop-down list will include more than 
one option. For employers permitted to file by mail, the employer may 
identify the SWA to receive the job order, consistent with the 
parameters at Sec.  655.121(e)(1), in a cover letter attached to that 
job order. Upon submission in the FLAG system, the job order will be 
electronically transmitted to the SWA the employer identified.
    The Department declines to revise Sec.  655.121(e)(1) to restrict 
an employer's choice among the SWAs sharing jurisdiction in an AIE that 
crosses State lines by requiring the employer to select the SWA with 
jurisdiction over the place where work is expected to begin. As a 
preliminary matter, these job orders may not involve work that begins 
in one State or another; work may begin simultaneously throughout the 
AIE and across State lines. Further, an employer's choice in this 
scenario is limited; the employer has the option to choose only among 
those SWAs that share State lines in the AIE. In addition, the 
difference in recruitment exposure in each of the States involved is 
minimal. As soon as the employer-selected SWA approves the job order 
and begins intrastate recruitment, it will notify the NPC through the 
FLAG system to transmit the job order in the FLAG system to the other 
SWAs with jurisdiction over the AIE, in accordance with Sec.  
655.121(f). Adding the suggested restriction to Sec.  655.121(e)(1) 
would increase the complexity of filings without adding significant 
value. However, the Department has clarified the SWA selection criteria 
applicable to a job opportunity that involves work in multiple AIEs 
along a planned itinerary, where there is a true beginning location for 
the work to be performed under the contract, in Sec.  655.302.
b. SWA Review of the Job Order
    The Department proposed minor revisions to the timeframes and 
procedures under which the SWA performs a review of the employer's job 
order. Specifically, the Department proposed that where the SWA issues 
a notification of deficiencies, the notification the SWA issues must 
state the reason(s) the job order fails to meet the applicable 
requirements and state the modifications needed for the SWA to accept 
the job order. In addition, the Department proposed that the job order 
be deemed abandoned if the employer's response to the SWA's 
notification is not received within 12 calendar days after the SWA 
issues the notification. Finally, the Department proposed that any 
notice sent by the SWA to an employer must be sent using a method 
guaranteeing next-day delivery, including email or other electronic 
methods, and must include a copy to the employer's representative, if 
applicable.
    Two commenters expressed concern that the Department was 
diminishing the role of the SWAs in the job order review process. One 
commenter believed the Department intended to transfer authority for 
job order review from the SWAs to OFLC, which the commenter asserted 
would set a ``dangerous precedent'' that would undermine the SWA's role 
by influencing how and when a SWA receives the job order. Similarly, a 
workers' rights advocacy organization believed the proposed changes 
would diminish the SWA's ability to promptly recruit and advise U.S. 
workers of job opportunities and compromise the SWA's ability to issue 
a notification of deficiencies when the job order violates State law or 
fails to conform to local prevailing wages and practices. The commenter 
emphasized the importance of the SWAs in conducting review of job 
orders, noting the SWAs have greater knowledge than the CO of actual 
labor needs, crop needs, and local practice and, therefore, are more 
likely to identify flaws or fraud in job orders. This commenter further 
urged SWAs not to accept job orders, and OFLC to deny Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification, that do not list use of crew 
leaders as a prevailing practice or that do list qualifications or 
requirements (e.g., experience requirements, background checks, or 
productivity standards), unless there has been a determination as to 
``whether or not these requirements are, in fact, the prevailing 
practices of non-H-2A employers in the industry and area.''
    Contrary to the concerns of the commenters, the Department is not 
changing the roles or responsibilities of the SWAs with respect to 
review and approval of job orders in this rulemaking. The SWAs will 
continue their traditional role in the recruitment process and work 
with employers on the specifics of the job order. Section 655.121(e)(2) 
in the NPRM and this final rule retains the language from the 2010 H-2A 
Final Rule that explains the SWA will review the contents of the job 
order for compliance with the requirements set forth in 20 CFR part 653 
and this subpart. As the Department has noted in prior rulemaking, 
processing job orders has been an essential function of the SWAs since 
the inception of the H-2A program, and posting job orders in the 
employment service system and referring individuals to those jobs is a



core function of the SWAs that remains at the State level in this rule. 
The Department agrees the SWAs are especially effective arbiters of the 
acceptability of job orders due to their experience in providing 
services to farmworkers and their unique expertise in assisting 
employers in preparing job orders and making determinations regarding 
their sufficiency. The Department will continue to rely on the SWAs to 
apply their broad, historical experience in administering our nation's 
public workforce system and understanding of the practical application 
of program requirements to the process of clearing job orders.
    Further, this final rule continues the CO's existing authority and 
responsibility with respect to review of job orders after the 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification has been filed. 
Section 655.121(h) in this final rule is substantively the same as 
Sec.  655.121(e) in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule. As was the case under the 
2010 H-2A Final Rule, Sec.  655.121(h) of this final rule explains that 
H-2A job orders continue to be subject to CO review and that the CO may 
require the employer to make modifications to the job order prior to 
certification. As the Department explained in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 
it has the ultimate authority to ensure that a job order submitted in 
connection with an Application for Temporary Employment Certification 
satisfies applicable requirements. COs have always had the authority to 
review job orders; SWA acceptance of a job order has never obligated a 
CO to overlook any apparent violations or deficiencies the SWA may not 
have identified. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, CO 
determinations about job orders will be consistent with those of the 
SWA, as is true of these determinations under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule.
    Two commenters also asserted some SWAs add an ever-growing and 
unnecessary list of attestations and assurances. One of the commenters 
believed this is inconsistent with the Department's goal to streamline 
the program and expressed concern that the additional attestations may 
be incompatible with the new streamlined Forms ETA-790/790A and ETA-
9142A. The commenters did not cite specific unduly burdensome 
requirements or state specifically which attestation requirements they 
consider inappropriate or burdensome.
    In the Department's experience, some disagreements about job order 
content are attributable to differences in experience with the local 
industries and labor markets, and the resulting content requirements 
are legitimate outgrowths of those differences. The Department will 
continue to provide training and ongoing guidance for the SWAs, as 
necessary, to foster a clear understanding of program and other 
regulatory requirements and ensure uniformity in the job order review 
and determination processes. With the newly designed Form ETA-790/790A, 
the Department anticipates fewer inconsistencies between SWA 
determinations in various States. However, should a disagreement 
between the SWA and employer arise regarding attestations, assurances, 
or other job order content, which the SWA and employer are unable to 
resolve, the Department reminds employers that they can submit an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification pursuant to 
emergency filing procedures contained in Sec.  655.134. See Sec.  
655.121(e)(3).
    Under this final rule, the SWA will provide written notification to 
the employer of any deficiencies within 7 calendar days from the date 
the NPC transmitted the job order to the SWA. The notification issued 
by the SWA, which will be sent using a method ensuring next-day 
delivery, including email or other electronic methods, will state the 
reasons the job order fails to meet the applicable requirements and 
state the modifications needed for the SWA to accept the job order. The 
employer will continue to have an opportunity to respond to the 
deficiencies within 5 calendar days from the date the SWA issues the 
notification, and the SWA will issue a final notification to accept or 
deny the job order within 3 calendar days from the date the SWA 
receives the employer's response. To ensure a timely disposition of all 
job orders, a job order will be deemed abandoned if the employer's 
response to the notification of deficiencies is not received within 12 
calendar days after the SWA issues the notification. In this situation, 
the SWA will provide written notification and direct the employer to 
submit a new job order to the NPC that satisfies all the requirements 
of this section. The 12-calendar-day period provides an employer a 
reasonable maximum period within which to respond, given the 
Department's concern for timely processing of the employer's job order.
    If the SWA does not respond to the employer's job order submission 
within the stated timelines, or if after providing responses to the 
deficiencies noted by the SWA, the employer is not able to resolve the 
deficiencies with the SWA, the Department will continue to permit the 
employer to file its Application for Temporary Employment Certification 
and job order to the NPC using the emergency filing procedures 
contained in Sec.  655.134. The Department continues to encourage 
employers to work with the SWAs early in the process to ensure their 
job orders meet applicable State-specific laws and regulations and are 
accepted in a timely manner for intrastate and interstate clearance.
c. Clearance of Approved Job Orders
    The 2010 H-2A Final Rule provided for the SWA to review a job order 
and, after determining the job order was acceptable, to begin 
intrastate clearance and, in multi-State AIEs, circulate the job order 
to the SWAs in other States with jurisdiction over the place of 
employment. Under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, however, the SWA does not 
begin interstate clearance until the CO instructs it to do so through 
the Notice of Acceptance (NOA). Upon receipt of the NOA, the SWA 
transmits the job order to SWAs in other States, following the CO's 
instructions.
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed changes to the job order 
circulation process, in part, to bolster the optional pre-filing 
recruitment procedures proposed at Sec.  655.123. The Department 
proposed to expand job order circulation to interstate clearance upon 
SWA approval, rather than upon CO issuance of the NOA. In addition, 
consistent with the proposed electronic transmission of job orders, the 
Department proposed that the SWA would notify the CO of the SWA's 
approval, after which the CO would electronically transmit the job 
order to other SWAs for interstate clearance.
    Although the January 2021 draft final rule would have adopted the 
pre-filing interstate circulation of job orders, after further 
consideration of comments that addressed the Department's pre-filing 
recruitment proposal and the Department's resulting decision not to 
adopt that proposal, as discussed in the preamble regarding Sec.  
655.123, the Department has determined not to revise the timing of job 
order clearance in this final rule. In particular, and consistent with 
the Department's reasoning for not adopting the proposed optional pre-
filing recruitment provision, the Department has determined that the 
potential benefits of pre-filing interstate circulation of the job 
order are outweighed by the potential for confusion regarding job offer 
details and additional communication (e.g., between the CO and SWA or 
SWA and farmworker) if the job order is modified before the CO issues a 
NOA. Retaining the 2010 H-2A Final Rule's timing is consistent with the 
Department's goal of



simplifying the program and is responsive to comments indicating the 
importance of clear, accurate, and fixed job offer information for 
recruitment of U.S. workers. As a result, this final rule retains the 
2010 H-2A Final Rule's timing for intrastate and interstate clearance, 
with procedural modifications to conform to the electronic job order 
submission and transmission proposals adopted in this final rule. As 
revised, paragraph (f) provides that the SWA will review a job order 
and, if approved, will place the job order in intrastate clearance to 
commence recruitment of U.S. workers within its jurisdiction. In 
addition, if appropriate, the SWA will notify the NPC that the job 
order must be transmitted to other SWAs with jurisdiction over the 
place of employment (i.e., a place of employment located in a multi-
State AIE) for intrastate clearance. Subsequently, upon the CO's review 
and acceptance of the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification, as provided in Sec.  655.143, interstate circulation of 
the job order will begin, in accordance with Sec.  655.150.
d. Other Comments Related to Sec.  655.121
    To clarify procedures, and as a result of other proposed changes, 
the Department proposed reorganization of several components of Sec.  
655.121. In addition, the Department proposed a technical correction in 
paragraph (g) of this section, changing ``Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification'' to ``application'' to reflect that the term 
``application'' refers to a U.S. worker's application for the 
employer's job opportunity during recruitment, not the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification.
    The Department received a comment from an agent suggesting an 
amendment to Sec.  655.121(h)(2) to allow employers to request a 
modification of the job order to the NPC after filing an Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification and prior to receiving a NOA, 
rather than limiting employer-requested modifications to the period 
prior to filing the Application for Temporary Employment Certification. 
The commenter believed its suggestion would be consistent with the fact 
the NPC may require the employer to modify the job order during the 
review process through a deficiency notice. However, the Department did 
not propose changes to this provision, which appeared in the 2010 H-2A 
Final Rule at paragraph (e)(2) of this section; therefore, the 
suggestion is beyond the scope of this rulemaking. Further, unlike CO-
ordered modifications, employer-requested modifications would confuse 
and complicate the CO's analysis and ability to identify deficiencies 
within 7 business days of receipt or, alternatively, issue a NOA as the 
first action.
    Another individual commenter suggested the Department allow 
employers ``to file 120 days from the date of need,'' which presumably 
refers to the filing timeframe for submitting a job order in Sec.  
655.121(b). As the Department proposed no changes to the filing 
timeframe, this suggestion is outside the scope of this rulemaking.
3. Section 655.122, Contents of Job Offers
a. Paragraph (a), Prohibition Against Preferential Treatment of H-2A 
Workers
    The Department's current regulation at Sec.  655.122(a) prohibits 
the preferential treatment of H-2A workers and requires that an 
employer's job offer must offer to U.S. workers no less than the same 
benefits, wages, and working conditions that the employer is offering, 
intends to offer, or will provide to H-2A workers. Section 655.122(a) 
further prohibits job offers from imposing on U.S. workers any 
restrictions or obligations that will not be imposed on the employer's 
H-2A workers. The Department did not propose any changes to or request 
comments on Sec.  655.122(a) in the NPRM, but the Department received 
one comment on this section. An agent requested that the Department 
``clarify'' that the U.S. workers referenced in this section are those 
U.S. workers engaged in corresponding employment because, it asserted, 
``U.S. workers not in corresponding employment are not, in fact, 
entitled to the same H-2A wage rate as this provision appears to 
suggest.'' The commenter, however, is incorrect because the 
requirements of this section are not limited to U.S. workers in 
corresponding employment. Under this section, for example, an H-2A 
employer may not impose on prospective U.S. workers applying for the H-
2A job opportunity a minimum weight-lifting requirement that it will 
not and does not impose on H-2A workers. Therefore, this final rule 
retains the current regulatory language without change.
b. Paragraph (d), Housing
    Pursuant to the statute and the Department's regulations, an 
employer must provide housing at no cost to all H-2A workers and to 
those non-H-2A workers in corresponding employment who are not 
reasonably able to return to their residences within the same day. See 
8 U.S.C. 1188(c)(4); Sec.  655.122(d)(1). Generally, an employer may 
meet its housing obligations either by providing its own housing that 
meets the applicable Federal health and safety standards, or by 
providing rental and/or public accommodations that meet the applicable 
local, State, or Federal standards.\70\ The statute further requires 
that the determination whether the housing meets the applicable 
standards must be made not later than 30 days before the first date of 
need. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(c)(3)(A) and (4).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \70\ Housing for workers principally engaged in the range 
production of livestock must meet the minimum standards required by 
Sec.  655.122(d)(2).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The NPRM proposed several amendments to this section governing 
housing inspections and certifications. Specifically, the Department 
proposed to reinforce the statutory requirement that housing 
certification must be made not later than 30 days prior to the first 
date of need; clarify that other appropriate local, State, or Federal 
agencies may conduct inspections of employer-provided housing on behalf 
of the SWAs; and authorize the SWAs (or other appropriate authorities) 
to inspect and certify employer-provided housing for a period of up to 
24 months. The Department received many comments on the proposed 
amendments to these sections. After carefully considering these 
comments, the Department has adopted with minor revisions some of the 
regulatory text proposed in the NPRM and decided not to adopt the 
proposals that would have permitted a 24-month housing certification 
period and employer self-certification of housing, as discussed below.
Employer-Provided Housing
    Preoccupancy inspections are a vital step in determining whether 
employer-provided housing actually meets applicable health and safety 
standards, allowing the Department to ensure that the housing is safe 
and sufficient for the number of workers to be housed prior to their 
arrival for the work contract period. Under the current regulation, 
employers are required to obtain preoccupancy inspections of their 
housing for every temporary agricultural labor certification without 
exception. This requirement can lead to delays in the labor 
certification process, given the high demand for preoccupancy 
inspections and the SWAs' finite resources.
    To address such delays, the Department proposed to allow the SWAs 
to inspect and certify employer-provided housing for a period of time 
up to a maximum period of 24 months. Under this proposal, the SWAs 
would



be required to provide prior notice to the Department of their 
intention to certify employer-provided housing for extended periods of 
time, up to 24 months, and develop their own criteria for determining 
when such certifications are appropriate. Although the Department 
proposed to allow the SWAs to develop their own criteria, in 
recognition of their longstanding expertise in conducting housing 
inspections, the Department also requested comments as to whether a 
final rule should include specific criteria that the SWAs must consider 
in determining whether to certify employer-provided housing for longer 
time periods. The proposal also stated that when an employer files a 
subsequent Application for Temporary Employment Certification during 
the validity period of the official housing certification previously 
received from the SWA (or other appropriate authority), the employer 
would have been required to conduct its own inspection of the housing 
and provide the SWA and CO with a copy of the still-valid housing 
certification, which must be valid for the entire work contract period, 
and a signed and dated statement that the employer has inspected the 
housing, that the housing is available and sufficient to accommodate 
the number of workers requested, and that the housing meets all 
applicable health and safety standards. Additionally, the NPRM proposed 
to add language reiterating the statutory requirement that 
determinations with respect to housing must be made no later than 30 
days prior to the first date of need. The NPRM also proposed to clarify 
that other appropriate local, State, or Federal agencies may conduct 
inspections of employer-provided housing on behalf of the SWAs, in 
accordance with the regulatory provisions at Sec.  653.501(b). As 
discussed below, the Department has decided to adopt with minor 
revisions some of the regulatory provisions proposed in the NPRM.
    The Department received comments from a range of stakeholders 
regarding the proposed changes to the employer-provided housing 
inspection requirements. Employers and employer representatives 
expressed broad support for the proposal to allow certifications of 
employer-provided housing for a period of up to 24 months with 
employers self-inspecting their housing for further applications during 
this period. They indicated that this proposed revision would reduce 
delays in the application and certification process that they say harm 
agricultural businesses and create uncertainty for employers and 
workers. Some State agencies also expressed support for this proposal, 
indicating that it would improve their ability to allocate their 
resources for housing inspections. However, many of these commenters 
expressed concern that the SWAs would have discretion to determine the 
criteria for determining when such housing certification periods would 
be appropriate, indicating that the SWAs should be precluded from 
continuing inspections on an annual basis. Several commenters indicated 
that the final rule should require the SWAs to allow agricultural 
employers to have their housing certified for a period of 24 months, or 
at least provide incentives to the SWAs to encourage them to certify 
employer-provided housing for a 24-month period as often as possible. 
Other commenters stated that the Department should require the SWAs to 
certify employer-provided housing for a 24-month period when previous 
inspections of housing provided by that employer had found that the 
housing complied with all applicable standards.
    Employers and their representatives were more divided in their 
comments regarding the proposed clarification that other appropriate 
local, State, or Federal agencies may conduct inspections of employer-
provided housing on behalf of the SWAs. Several commenters stated that 
allowing agencies other than the SWAs to conduct housing inspections, 
as is already done in some States, reduces the logistical burden on the 
SWAs. They also noted that in some States, employer-provided housing is 
already inspected by other agencies due to State laws regarding migrant 
worker housing. If those agencies also conducted housing inspections 
for H-2A housing certifications, it would reduce the burden on 
employers for the same agency to conduct both inspections. Other 
employer associations expressed concern over the proposed language, 
particularly the possibility that Federal agencies might conduct 
housing inspections, as they felt such inspections were more 
appropriately conducted at the State or local level.
    In contrast, workers and workers' rights advocacy organizations 
generally opposed the proposal to allow the SWAs to certify employer-
provided housing for a period of up to 24 months, with employers 
conducting self-inspections of the housing for any subsequent 
Applications for Temporary Employment Certification filed during that 
timeframe. Workers, workers' rights advocacy organizations, and some 
government agencies stated that employer-provided housing frequently 
fails to meet applicable health and safety standards even when 
inspected annually under the current rule, and that moving to a 24-
month certification period would thus increase the risk that workers 
would be exposed to unsafe housing conditions. Several commenters also 
noted that housing conditions can deteriorate significantly over the 
course of a year, citing examples of housing that passed inspection but 
was found to have health or safety violations when subsequently 
investigated during the certification period, making it even less 
appropriate to certify housing for a longer time period. Workers' 
rights advocacy organizations also questioned whether the employers' 
self-inspection of their housing during the 24-month certification 
period would motivate employers to ensure that their housing continues 
to meet applicable health and safety standards, given the high rate of 
violations even when employers know that their housing will be 
inspected by a government agency annually. Some commenters stated that 
if the Department allows the SWAs to certify employer-provided housing 
for a 24-month period, the regulation should include criteria that must 
be met for employers to receive a longer certification period, such as 
compliance with Federal, State, or local housing laws, age of the 
housing, and whether the housing is in a populated, easily accessible 
area. Two other commenters suggested that if the SWAs were unable to 
certify housing in a timely manner, the Department itself should 
inspect the housing.
    After consideration of the comments received, the Department has 
decided not to adopt the proposal to permit certifications of employer-
provided housing for a period of up to 24 months, with employers self-
inspecting their housing for further applications during this period. 
Although the Department recognizes that preoccupancy housing 
inspections must be conducted in a timely manner, the Department 
concludes that achieving greater expediency in the certification 
process must not come at the cost of reduced housing compliance 
monitoring and increased risk to worker health and safety. As several 
commenters noted, the Department frequently encounters post-
certification violations of the housing safety and health requirements 
even under the current rule; reducing the frequency of housing 
inspections would likely further exacerbate the frequency and severity 
of such violations. To do so would be inconsistent with the statute's



requirement that worker housing meet applicable safety and health 
standards. And while the January 2021 draft final rule would have 
accepted the proposal, after further consideration of the comments, and 
for the reasons discussed above, the Department has declined to do so.
    The Department has also considered the comments regarding the 
proposed clarification that other appropriate local, State, or Federal 
agencies may conduct inspections of employer-provided housing on behalf 
of the SWAs. As stated above, the proposed language merely reflected 
the existing regulatory provisions of Sec.  653.501(b)(3), which 
already allow other appropriate agencies to conduct preoccupancy 
housing inspections on the SWAs' behalf, and are included with the 
other housing provisions at Sec.  655.122(d) for clarity and 
convenience. Indeed, as several commenters noted, preoccupancy 
inspections are already carried out by agencies other than the SWA in 
several States. As the proposed language merely reiterated the current 
regulatory position that preoccupancy inspections may be conducted by 
any appropriate public agency, the Department did not find that any 
change to this language was warranted and therefore has adopted the 
proposed language without change in this final rule. Similarly, the 
Department is adopting without change the proposed language in 
paragraph (6)(i) of this section, reiterating the statutory requirement 
that the determination as to whether housing provided to workers meets 
the applicable standards must be made not later than 30 calendar days 
before the first date of need identified in the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification.
Rental and/or Public Accommodations
    Where employers choose to meet their H-2A housing obligations by 
providing rental and/or public accommodations, the statute explicitly 
states that the accommodations must meet local standards for rental 
and/or public accommodations. In the absence of applicable local 
standards, State standards for rental or public accommodations must be 
met, and in the absence of applicable local or State standards, Federal 
temporary labor camp standards must be met. See 8 U.S.C. 
1188(c)(4).\71\ The current regulations at 20 CFR 655.122(d)(1)(ii) 
reflect the statutory language, incorporating the Occupational Safety 
and Health Administration's (OSHA) temporary labor camp standards at 29 
CFR 1910.142, and additionally state that ``[t]he employer must 
document to the satisfaction of the CO that the housing complies with 
the local, State, or Federal housing standards.'' Currently, employers 
may meet that requirement by several methods, including, but not 
limited to, providing a copy of a housing inspection report or 
certification by the SWA, or another local, State, or Federal agency, 
where such an inspection is required by applicable rental or public 
accommodation standards, or by providing a signed and dated written 
statement confirming that the accommodation complies with applicable 
local, State, and/or Federal standards.\72\
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    \71\ ``The employer shall be permitted at the employer's option 
. . . to secure housing which meets the local standards for rental 
and/or public accommodations or other substantially similar class of 
habitation: Provided, That in the absence of applicable local 
standards, State standards for rental and/or public accommodations 
or other substantially similar class of habitation shall be met: 
Provided further, That in the absence of applicable local or State 
standards, Federal temporary labor camp standards shall apply.''
    \72\ See OFLC FAQ, What do I need to submit to demonstrate the 
[rental and/or public accommodations] complies with applicable 
housing standards? (June 2017), https://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/faqsanswers.cfm#q!917.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This patchwork of applicable standards creates several challenges 
to protecting the health and safety of H-2A and corresponding workers 
housed in rental and/or public accommodations, such as hotels, motels, 
and other public accommodations that are available to the general 
public to rent for relatively short-term stays. Under the current 
regulations, in the absence of any local or State standards applicable 
to rental and/or public accommodations, the full set of OSHA temporary 
labor camp standards at Sec.  1910.142 apply. However, several of these 
standards address health and safety concerns that generally do not 
arise in rental and/or public accommodations and thus are impractical 
or infeasible to apply in this context (for example, Sec.  
1910.142(a)(1), which addresses drainage of camp sites), leading to 
inconsistent application and enforcement of the standards overall. 
Conversely, where any local or State standards applicable to rental 
and/or public accommodations do exist, those standards apply to the 
complete exclusion of the OSHA temporary labor camp standards. Even 
where local and State standards for rental and/or public accommodations 
exist and address basic health and safety concerns for the general 
population, such as maximum occupancy, these standards are often silent 
on health and safety concerns unique to agricultural worker housing 
that are otherwise addressed in the OSHA temporary labor camp standards 
at Sec.  1910.142.
    These gaps in protection can lead to significant health and safety 
concerns. In particular, overcrowding is one of the most common 
problems the Department encounters when inspecting hotels or motels 
used to house H-2A and corresponding workers. Workers have been found 
to be required to share a bed, sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag, 
share a single room where as many as eight people may be sleeping, or 
sleep on mattresses on the ground in laundry rooms or living rooms. In 
addition, where workers have to cook their own meals, hotels and motels 
may not have sanitary facilities or adequate cooking equipment, which 
can lead to worker health issues, rodent or pest infestations, and fire 
hazards. Workers housed in hotels and motels also may not have access 
to laundry facilities, a serious concern for workers whose clothing 
regularly comes into contact with pesticides or herbicides. These 
issues are all addressed in the OSHA temporary labor camp standards but 
are not frequently covered in local or State standards for rental and/
or public accommodations.\73\
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    \73\ Beginning on March 13, 2020, continued on February 24, 
2021, and again on February 18, 2022, the President has declared a 
national emergency concerning the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-
19) pandemic. The Department encourages H-2A employers to regularly 
consult Federal, State, and local guidance on the COVID-19. At the 
time of this publication, OSHA's regulations and guidance relevant 
to COVID-19 are available at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus. 
OFLC's guidance on COVID-19 for H-2A employers is available at 
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/foreign-labor.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    To address these concerns, the Department proposed certain changes 
to its regulations interpreting the statutory requirements for rental 
and/or public accommodations standards. The Department identified 
specific OSHA temporary labor camp standards that are applicable to 
rental or public accommodations, specifically: Sec.  1910.142(b)(2) 
(``[e]ach room used for sleeping purposes shall contain at least 50 
square feet of floor space for each occupant''), (b)(3) (``[b]eds . . . 
shall be provided in every room used for sleeping purposes''), (b)(9) 
(``In a room where workers cook, live, and sleep a minimum of 100 
square feet per person shall be provided. Sanitary facilities shall be 
provided for storing and preparing food.''), (b)(11) (heating, cooking, 
and water heating equipment installed properly), (c) (water supply); 
(f) (laundry, handwashing, and bathing facilities), and (j) (insect and 
rodent control). Where local health and safety standards for rental 
and/or public



accommodations exist, the local standards apply in their entirety. 
However, if the local standards do not address one or more of the 
issues addressed in the OSHA health and safety standards listed in the 
regulation, the relevant State standards on those issues will apply. If 
both the local and State standards are silent on one or more of the 
issues addressed in the OSHA health and safety standards listed in the 
regulation, the relevant OSHA health and safety standards will apply. 
If there are no applicable local or State standards at all, only the 
OSHA health and safety standards listed in the regulation will apply. 
OSHA temporary labor camp standards that are not specifically mentioned 
in 20 CFR 655.122(d)(1)(ii) will not be applicable to rental or public 
accommodations.
    The following is an example of how local, State, and OSHA health 
and safety standards would be applied to a specific rental or public 
accommodation under the regulation. An employer provides housing for 
workers in a motel located in a county with a local code that includes 
health and safety standards for public accommodations that address all 
but one of the health and safety standards in the listed OSHA 
standards, i.e., a requirement for a minimum number of square feet per 
occupant for sleeping rooms, one of the applicable OSHA health and 
safety standards listed in the regulation. The existing local code 
applies in its entirety to the motel, but since the local code has no 
applicable standard for a minimum number of square feet per occupant 
for sleeping rooms, the State standard for the minimum number of square 
feet per occupant for sleeping rooms, if any, would be applicable to 
the housing as well. If the State has no standard for the minimum 
number of square feet per occupant for sleeping rooms that is 
applicable to public accommodations, then the OSHA standard at 29 CFR 
1910.142(b)(2), which states that sleeping rooms must contain at least 
50 square feet per occupant, will apply (or, where cooking facilities 
are present, Sec.  1910.142(b)(9), which requires 100 square feet per 
occupant in rooms where occupants live, sleep, and cook, would apply), 
in addition to other requirements of the local code. However, if the 
local standard (or State standard, in the absence of any local 
standard) contains a standard for the minimum number of square feet per 
occupant for sleeping rooms (or, where cooking facilities are present, 
a standard for the minimum feet per occupant for rooms where occupants 
live, sleep, and cook) that is applicable to public accommodations, 
that standard would apply, regardless of whether that local standard 
was more or less stringent than the applicable OSHA standard, because 
the listed OSHA standards apply only in the absence of local or State 
standards addressing those health and safety issues. Similarly, a local 
or State standard need not explicitly provide for a minimum number of 
square feet per occupant, provided the standard addresses the relevant 
area required for a given number of people. For example, a local 
standard that provides a maximum occupancy of three persons to a room 
that measures 100 square feet would constitute an applicable local 
standard, as it provides for a minimum area for each occupant. 
Alternatively, if there were no local or State health and safety codes 
applicable to the motel, only the OSHA standards listed in 20 CFR 
655.122(d)(1)(ii) would apply. Any other OSHA standards listed at 29 
CFR 1910.142 would not be applicable to the motel, because only the 
OSHA standards specifically listed in 20 CFR 655.122(d)(1)(ii) are 
applicable to rental or public accommodations, and then only when 
neither the locality nor the State have applicable standards addressing 
those issues.
    The Department also proposed to modify the current regulatory 
language, which states that ``[t]he employer must document to the 
satisfaction of the CO that the housing complies with the local, State, 
or Federal housing standards'' (Sec.  655.122(d)(1)(ii)), to specify 
how an employer must document that the rental or public accommodations 
meet local, State, or Federal standards. The proposed language states 
that an employer must submit to the CO a signed, dated, written 
statement, attesting that the rental and/or public accommodations meet 
all applicable standards and are sufficient to accommodate the number 
of workers requested. This statement must include the number of beds 
and rooms that the employer will secure for the worker(s). The proposal 
language further required that, where the applicable local or State 
standards under Sec.  655.122(d)(1)(ii) require an inspection, the 
employer also must submit a copy of the inspection report or other 
official documentation from the relevant authority. Where no inspection 
is required, the employer's written statement must confirm that no 
inspection is required. The proposed language generally reflects 
current OFLC guidance as to how the employer may document that 
applicable health and safety standards have been met,\74\ with the 
additional requirements that employers submit a written statement even 
if they are also submitting a copy of an inspection report, where 
required, and that the written statement must contain the number of 
beds and rooms that will be provided in the rental or public 
accommodations. As discussed below, the Department has decided to adopt 
the regulatory provisions as proposed in the NPRM, with a few 
modifications.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \74\ See OFLC FAQ, What do I need to submit to demonstrate the 
[rental and/or public accommodations] complies with applicable 
housing standards? (June 2017), https://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/faqsanswers.cfm#q!917.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Several employers and employer associations opposed the proposed 
changes. These commenters generally stated that there is no basis for 
requiring employers to ensure that rental or public housing complies 
with any of the OSHA temporary labor camp health and safety standards, 
because standards designed for temporary labor camps are inappropriate 
for rental or public accommodations. They commented that requiring 
employers to find rental or public accommodations that meet the listed 
OSHA standards (in the absence of local or State standards addressing 
those issues) would be very difficult, possibly even preventing H-2A 
employers from using rental or public accommodations. These employers 
requested that the regulations no longer require the application of 
OSHA temporary labor camp standards. At least one commenter stated that 
the option to provide rental or public accommodations was made 
available to employers to give them the flexibility to provide housing 
that does not comply with OSHA health and safety standards in areas 
where compliant housing may be scarce. Some commenters expressed 
further concern that employers should be expected to attest to the 
compliance of rental or public housing accommodations provided to their 
workers, as it would be too confusing for them to determine which set 
of standards should apply. One employer association, while generally 
supportive of the proposed changes, indicated that employers are 
frequently unable to use public accommodations because the 
accommodations fail required inspections for minor issues, such as lack 
of window screens, and urged that employers should have greater access 
to public accommodation options.
    In contrast, workers, workers' rights advocacy organizations, and 
at least one State agency expressed support for the proposed changes, 
indicating that specifically requiring the application of



Federal OSHA health and safety standards addressing important issues 
such as overcrowding, or inadequate sleeping, bathing, or laundry 
facilities, in the absence of such local or State standards, would 
result in modest improvements to worker health and safety. However, 
these commenters also stated that these improvements would not be 
sufficient without a strong commitment to inspections and enforcement 
of housing violations, with one workers' rights advocacy organization 
further urging that Federal OSHA should be required to inspect rental 
or public accommodations in areas where local or State laws do not 
require such inspections. Another workers' rights advocacy organization 
stated that the regulations should require the employer to at least use 
a more detailed self-inspection form, such as Form ETA-338, and 
identify the applicable standards for DOL or the SWA to review prior to 
issuing a temporary agricultural labor certification. In addition, most 
of these commenters expressed general support for additional 
protections or standards to be included in the regulations, but did not 
identify specific standards for inclusion. As addressed further below, 
only one commenter suggested specific additional standards for 
inclusion in the regulation.
    Having reviewed the comments on these issues, the Department adopts 
the proposals on rental and/or public accommodations at Sec.  
655.122(d)(1)(ii) and (d)(6)(iii), with a few modifications. With 
respect to the concerns raised by employers and employers' associations 
that requiring compliance with applicable OSHA temporary labor camp 
health and safety standards may reduce the number of acceptable rental 
or public housing options, particularly in more rural areas, the 
Department notes that the statute requires that rental or public 
accommodations comply with applicable Federal temporary labor camp 
standards in the absence of applicable local or State standards. Thus, 
even under the Department's current regulations, in many instances, 
rental and public accommodations must comply with applicable OSHA 
temporary labor camp standards if used to satisfy an H-2A employer's 
housing obligations. The Department therefore cannot, through 
regulation, remove employers' statutory obligations to comply with 
applicable Federal temporary labor camp standards in the absence of 
applicable local or State standards. The Department can, however, 
identify which OSHA temporary labor camp health and safety standards 
are applicable to rental or public accommodations. Rental and public 
accommodations are different structures than temporary labor camps, and 
some temporary labor camp standards are not applicable to such 
accommodations. However, rental and public accommodations generally are 
not designed to house groups of unrelated adult agricultural workers 
for an extended period of time, especially not in only one or two 
rooms. Accordingly, local or State standards governing rental or public 
accommodations may not address serious health and safety issues that 
arise in such worker housing. The regulation thus identifies which OSHA 
standards employers must meet in the absence of applicable local or 
State standards on those issues, to prevent serious health and safety 
issues more likely to occur where rental or public housing is used to 
house H-2A and corresponding workers, while eliminating confusion about 
whether such rental or public housing must comply with other OSHA 
temporary labor camp standards that are not feasibly applied to hotels 
and motels and other rental or public accommodations.
    Similarly, the Department notes that it cannot ``simply require 
that regardless of local and state standards applicable to public 
accommodations, the housing must meet the basic minimum standards'' set 
forth in OSHA's temporary labor camp standards, as one workers' rights 
advocacy organization suggested, because the statute permits employers 
to secure housing that meets applicable local or State standards for 
rental and/or public accommodations. As noted above, the Department 
also asked for comment specifically as to whether the regulation should 
identify any additional health and safety standards addressed in the 
DOL OSHA standards at 29 CFR 1910.142 as applicable to rental or public 
accommodations. Only one commenter, a workers' rights advocacy 
organization, provided examples of additional OSHA temporary labor camp 
standards for inclusion in the regulations. Specifically, the commenter 
advocated for the addition of Sec.  1910.142(b)(7) (``[a]ll living 
quarters shall be provided with windows''), (b)(10) (``stoves (in ratio 
of one stove to 10 persons or one stove to two families) shall be 
provided''), (d) (toilet facilities), (g) (lighting), (h) (refuse 
disposal), and (i) (construction and operation of kitchens, dining, and 
feeding facilities).
    The Department appreciates the suggestions set forth in this 
comment. The Department has decided to include some, but not all, of 
the suggested OSHA standards in the list of applicable OSHA temporary 
labor camp standards. First, the commenter argued for the inclusion of 
Sec.  1910.142(b)(10), which states that ``[i]n camps where cooking 
facilities are used in common, stoves (in ratio of one stove to 10 
persons or one stove to two families) shall be provided in an enclosed 
and screened shelter. Sanitary facilities shall be provided for storing 
and preparing food.'' The commenter argued that the inclusion of this 
standard was necessary when employers claim that they are providing 
cooking and kitchen facilities to workers housed in rental or public 
accommodations, as rental or public accommodations frequently have 
inadequate cooking facilities that are either lacking in stoves or have 
an insufficient number for all workers to have sufficient access to 
cook their own food. The commenter further pointed out that without 
sufficient access to stoves, workers often must use microwaves or hot 
plates for all of their cooking needs, resulting in potential fire 
hazards. The Department agrees. Where employers choose to meet their 
meal obligations by providing kitchen and cooking facilities to 
workers, the facilities must include, among other things, working 
cooking appliances, an obligation that is not met merely by the 
provision of one or more electric hot plates, microwaves, or outdoor 
community grills. The failure to provide adequate cooking appliances 
when attempting to meet meal obligations through the provision of 
cooking and kitchen facilities would in itself be a violation of 20 CFR 
655.122(g), as was discussed in the preamble to the NPRM and is 
addressed further below. Including this standard as an applicable OSHA 
temporary labor camp standard may help employers determine whether 
rental or public accommodations have adequate kitchen and cooking 
facilities to enable employers to meet their meal obligations. 
Moreover, local and State codes applicable to rental or public 
accommodations are not likely to address this issue, since, in most 
instances, this type of housing is not generally intended to house 
groups of people over an extended period of time who need to be able to 
cook their own meals. This standard has therefore been included in the 
regulation as one of the applicable OSHA temporary labor camp 
standards, although it will be applicable only where an employer has 
chosen to meet its meal obligations by providing kitchen and cooking 
facilities to workers rather than by providing three meals per day to 
workers.



    The commenter also advocated for the inclusion of Sec.  
1910.142(g), ``Lighting,'' which provides that where electric service 
is available:
     Each habitable room in a camp shall be provided with at 
least one ceiling-type light fixture and at least one separate floor- 
or wall-type convenience outlet. Laundry and toilet rooms and rooms where people congregate 
shall contain at least one ceiling- or wall-type fixture. Light levels in toilet and storage rooms shall be at least 
20 foot-candles 30 inches from the floor. Other rooms, including kitchens and living quarters, shall 
be at least 30 foot-candles 30 inches from the floor.
    The commenter stated that worker health and safety requires at 
least one light fixture and outlet in each sleeping room, as well as 
adequate lighting in other rooms. It is likely that this issue will be 
addressed in applicable local or State codes, as various building codes 
published by the International Code Council, including the 
International Property Management Code, have standards regarding the 
number of electrical outlets and light fixtures required in sleeping 
rooms and other rooms, and these codes have been adopted by most States 
and/or localities.\75\ However, as this standard does address a basic 
health and safety need, and employers can fairly easily determine 
whether the rental or public accommodations they intend to use meet 
this standard, the Department has included Sec.  1910.142(g) in the 
regulation as one of the applicable OSHA temporary labor camp standards 
that will apply in the absence of any applicable local or State 
standard addressing this issue.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \75\ See https://www.iccsafe.org/wp-content/uploads/Master-I-Code-Adoption-Chart-DEC-2021.pdf (last visited Dec. 14, 2021).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The commenter also recommended that the entirety of Sec.  
1910.142(d), containing various standards for toilet facilities, should 
be included in the regulation as one of the applicable OSHA temporary 
labor camp standards, arguing that requirements for a minimum ratio of 
toilets per person, as well as provisions for lighting, a supply of 
toilet paper, and cleanliness, are essential for workers' health. The 
Department agrees that having adequate and sanitary toilet facilities 
is clearly necessary for workers' health, but several of the standards 
included in this section are impractical or less necessary for many 
types of rental or public accommodations, as the standards were 
designed for temporary labor camp facilities. For example, in hotels or 
motels, it may not be practical or necessary to require that toilet 
rooms be accessible without passing through sleeping rooms, as 
bathrooms in hotels and motels tend to be accessed directly off of the 
lone sleeping area and thus there is no other way to access the 
bathroom. Similarly, it may be impractical to require that there be a 
minimum of two toilets for every shared facility, since one shared 
hotel room is likely to have only one toilet. In addition, some of the 
issues addressed by this standard are covered by other OSHA temporary 
labor camp standards that are already specified in the regulation. For 
instance, Sec.  1910.142(d)(8), which requires that each toilet room 
have natural or artificial light available at all hours, is not 
necessary when Sec.  1910.142(g), which is included in the regulation 
as discussed above, requires all toilet rooms to have at least one 
ceiling or wall-type light fixture. However, some of the standards in 
this section are more feasibly implemented in rental or public 
accommodations, are more within the employer's ability to control, and 
are key to maintaining a sanitary bathroom environment. Section 
1910.142(d)(1), which states that ``[t]oilet facilities adequate for 
the capacity of the camp shall be provided,'' would be sufficient to 
require employers to ensure that the rental or public accommodation has 
sufficient toilets for the number of workers housed, without specifying 
a layout that may be impractical for rental or public accommodations. 
Section 1910.142(d)(9), requiring that an adequate supply of toilet 
paper be provided for each toilet, clearly serves a critical sanitary 
purpose. Section 1910.142(d)(10), requiring toilet rooms to be kept in 
a clean and sanitary condition and cleaned daily, also ensures that 
toilet facilities are maintained in a manner adequate for worker health 
and safety, and employers can ensure that this standard is followed in 
almost all types of rental or public accommodations. Accordingly, the 
Department has incorporated Sec.  1910.142(d)(1), (9), and (10) into 
this final rule as applicable OSHA temporary labor camp standards.
    However, the Department declines to include in this final rule all 
of the other OSHA temporary labor camp standards recommended by the 
workers' rights advocacy organization (Sec.  1910.142(b)(7) 
(ventilation), (h) (refuse disposal), and (i) (kitchens, dining halls, 
and feeding facilities)). First, Sec.  1910.142(b)(7) states that 
``[a]ll living quarters shall be provided with windows the total of 
which shall be not less than one-tenth of the floor area. At least one-
half of each window shall be so constructed that it can be opened for 
purposes of ventilation.'' The commenter claimed that this standard 
should be incorporated because rental and public accommodations may 
otherwise not have sufficient ventilation to combat a damp indoor 
environment, which can lead to serious health and safety issues such as 
mold, cockroach infestations, and rodent infestations. Although the 
Department certainly acknowledges the importance of ventilation in 
housing, this standard may be too restrictive for rental and public 
accommodations. In many instances, rental or public accommodations will 
have mechanical ventilation through a heating, ventilation, and air 
conditioning system or by other mechanical ventilation, which can 
provide ventilation at least as adequate as the ventilation provided by 
windows. An employer is unlikely to be able to require that hotels and 
motels additionally provide for windows that open. The U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency has stated that mechanical ventilation 
is preferable to ventilation through windows or other openings,\76\ 
making it even less appropriate to require windows that can be opened 
when the rental or public facility has other adequate means of 
ventilation. In addition, because windows (natural light) and 
ventilation are addressed by the various model building, residential, 
and maintenance codes published by the International Code Council, 
which have been incorporated by the majority of States,\77\ State and 
local codes are likely to have provisions addressing this standard. 
Moreover, if a lack of adequate ventilation leads to damp conditions 
that foster pest infestations or similar unhealthy conditions, the 
rental or public accommodations would not meet the requirement of Sec.  
1910.142(j), already included in this final rule, which states that 
effective measures shall be taken to prevent infestation by and 
harborage of animal or insect vectors or pests.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \76\ See Mechanical Ventilation: Breathe Easy with Fresh Air in 
the Home, https://www.energystar.gov/ia/new_homes/features/MechVent_062906.pdf (last visited Dec. 14, 2021).
    \77\ See https://www.iccsafe.org/wp-content/uploads/Master-I-Code-Adoption-Chart-DEC-2021.pdf (last visited Dec. 14, 2021).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Second, Sec.  1910.142(h)(1) requires fly- and rodent-tight 
containers for the storage of garbage, and that at least one container 
be provided within 100 feet of each ``family shelter.'' Section 
1910.142(h)(2) requires that garbage containers be kept clean, and 
Sec.  1910.142(h)(3) requires that garbage be



emptied when full, but at least twice a week. The workers' rights 
advocacy organization argued that this standard should be included to 
prevent rodents and insect infestation, stating that the inclusion of 
Sec.  1910.142(j) regarding rodent and insect control is undercut by 
the failure to incorporate this standard. While adequate facilities for 
containing and disposing of garbage are important to maintaining a 
healthy living environment, the Department does not believe that the 
requirements of this standard are always practical in the context of 
rental or public accommodation, where refuse collection for the worker 
housing may be conducted very differently than for a temporary labor 
camp but in a safe and sanitary manner. For example, where workers are 
housed in several rooms in a hotel, trash may be collected from their 
rooms along with trash from other rooms and placed into the hotel 
dumpsters. Although there might not be at least one dumpster for each 
worker shelter and the dumpster may not be within 100 feet of the 
shelter, such a system could nevertheless adequately deal with the 
garbage in a safe and sanitary manner. Moreover, the Department does 
not agree that the inclusion of Sec.  1910.142(j) regarding rodent and 
insect control is undercut by the failure to incorporate all elements 
of this standard, particularly in the context of rental and public 
accommodations. On the contrary, if accumulating garbage encourages 
rodents or insects, the employer would not be ensuring that 
``[e]ffective measures shall be taken to prevent infestation by and 
harborage of animal or insect vectors or pests,'' and would be in 
violation of Sec.  1910.142(j). However, upon further consideration, 
the Department concludes that certain aspects of Sec.  1910.142(h), 
specifically paragraphs (h)(2) and (3) requiring that garbage cans be 
kept clean and be emptied regularly, address significant safety and 
health concerns aside from the potential for rodent of insect 
infestation, and that these standards are easily implemented even in 
the context of hotels and motels, and are within an employer's control 
to ensure compliance. Accordingly, the Department has included Sec.  
1910.142(h)(2) and (3) in the regulation as two of the applicable OSHA 
temporary labor camp standards that will apply in the absence of any 
applicable local or State standard addressing these issues. Though the 
Department did not include this standard in the January 2021 draft 
final rule, upon further consideration of the rulemaking record and for 
the reasons stated above, the Department has concluded it is 
appropriate to do so here.
    Finally, Sec.  1910.142(i) establishes certain standards for 
central dining halls or multiple family feeding operations and food 
handling facilities in temporary labor camps. The workers' rights 
advocacy organization commented that this standard should be applicable 
to public and rental accommodations because these accommodations often 
do not have adequate cooking and kitchen facilities. Moreover, even 
where rental or public accommodations have cooking and kitchen 
facilities, the commenter alleged that the facilities often have 
improper refrigerator temperatures, pest infestations, or contaminated 
water. However, the Department does not agree that the inclusion of 
Sec.  1910.142(i) as an applicable OSHA temporary labor camp standard 
is necessary to ensure that workers have adequate and safe cooking 
facilities when housed in rental or public accommodations. As explained 
in the preamble discussion of 20 CFR 655.122(g) the Department has 
addressed the issues that arise when kitchen and cooking facilities in 
rental or public accommodations are insufficient. The inclusion of 
Sec.  1910.142(i) would incorporate standards that were designed 
primarily for larger centralized cooking and dining facilities, such as 
a large labor camp where an employer has a centralized dining hall and 
employs people to cook for the workers, and are therefore not 
appropriate for many rental or public accommodation situations. For 
example, even when a hotel room or suite has adequate kitchen or 
cooking facilities, it would not be practical to require that there be 
no opening from the kitchen into the living or sleeping quarters, as 
would be required by Sec.  1910.142(i)(2). Moreover, several of the 
potential harmful conditions mentioned by the commenter are either 
sufficiently addressed in the context of rental or public 
accommodations by other standards that were already included in the 
proposed provisions, such as Sec.  1910.142(b)(9) (``[s]anitary 
facilities shall be provided for storing and preparing food'' in rooms 
where workers cook), (c) (``[a]n adequate and convenient water supply, 
approved by the appropriate health authority, shall be provided in each 
camp for drinking, cooking, bathing, and laundry purposes''), or (j) 
(``[e]ffective measures shall be taken to prevent infestation by and 
harborage of animal or insect vectors or pests''), or would be further 
addressed by the additional incorporation of Sec.  1910.142(b)(10), as 
discussed above.
    The Department has made additional minor, nonsubstantive revisions 
to 20 CFR 655.122(d)(1)(ii) to better describe the applicable OSHA 
temporary labor camp standards.
    With respect to employers' concerns regarding self-attestation 
under Sec.  655.122(d)(6)(iii) that the rental or public accommodations 
they furnish to workers comply with applicable local, State, or OSHA 
standards,\78\ the Department notes that under both the statute and the 
current regulations, employers are responsible for ensuring that if 
they choose to use rental or public accommodations to meet their 
housing obligations, those rental or public accommodations must meet 
applicable standards, and for documenting to the CO that these 
standards have been met during the application process. By requiring 
employers to provide a signed and dated statement attesting that the 
rental and/or public accommodations meet all applicable standards and 
are sufficient to accommodate the number of workers requested, 
specifically noting the number of rooms and beds to be provided for the 
workers, along with any required inspection reports, the proposed 
changes merely attempt to ensure that employers have considered the 
applicable standards and verified that the rental or public 
accommodations comply with the standards prior to workers' arrival. 
However, the Department will not require that employers use a 
particular self-inspection form in providing the required statement 
because doing so would be impracticable. The applicable standards will 
vary depending upon the locality or State in which the rental or public 
accommodations are located.
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    \78\ To the extent that commenters had concerns related to 
inspections of rental or public housing by SWAs or other agencies, 
it should be noted that those inspections are not required by these 
regulations, but by State or local laws, with their own 
requirements.
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Housing for Workers Covered by 20 CFR 655.200 Through 655.235
    The Department is making clarifying edits to paragraph (d)(2) to 
reflect that Sec. Sec.  655.230 and 655.235 establish the housing 
requirements for workers employed in herding and range production of 
livestock occupations under Sec. Sec.  655.200 through 655.235. The 
Department has established separate requirements for these workers due 
to the unique nature of the work performed. The Department is also 
making a technical, conforming edit to paragraph (d)(2) to reflect that 
Sec.  655.304



establishes the housing standards applicable to mobile housing for 
workers engaged in itinerant animal shearing or custom combining, as 
defined and specified under Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304.
c. Paragraph (g), Meals
    The Department did not propose any changes to the current 
regulation at Sec.  655.122(g), which requires an employer to provide 
each worker three meals a day or furnish free and convenient cooking 
and kitchen facilities so that the worker can prepare meals, and 
further states that where an employer provides the meals, the job offer 
must state the charge, if any, to the worker for such meals. However, 
due to the high incidence of violations of this provision, the 
Department provided additional clarification of these requirements in 
the preamble to the NPRM. The Department adopts that guidance in the 
preamble to this final rule, with some additional clarifications in 
response to comments received. In addition, as explained below, the 
Department has revised Sec.  655.122(g) in this final rule to reiterate 
certain requirements in Sec.  655.173 regarding meal charges.
    Specifically, the NPRM clarified that kitchen facilities provided 
in lieu of meals must include clean space for food preparation, working 
cooking and refrigeration appliances, and dishwashing facilities. 
Although no specific cooking appliances are required, the appliances 
provided must be sufficient to allow workers to safely prepare three 
meals per day, a requirement that is not met if the employer merely 
provides an electric hot plate, a microwave, or an outdoor community 
grill, or if workers are required to purchase cooking appliances or 
accessories, such as portable burners, charcoal, propane, or lighter 
fluid. The Department adopts that guidance here.
    In addition, the Department noted that public accommodations such 
as hotels or motels frequently do not have adequate cooking facilities 
to satisfy an employer's obligations under this section, and, in those 
instances, employers must provide three meals a day to workers to meet 
their obligations under Sec.  655.122(g). The Department further 
explained that, where workers are housed in rental or public 
accommodations that provide meals, the provision of such meals may be 
sufficient to satisfy part of the employer's obligations under Sec.  
655.122(g). However, upon further consideration of the fact that such 
meals are unlikely to be sufficient to satisfy the employer's 
obligations under Sec.  655.122(g), the Department is further 
clarifying this guidance. Some public accommodations may provide 
complimentary breakfast (e.g., continental breakfast, buffet, etc.) 
during a specific allotted time, such as 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Such 
complimentary breakfast will generally not satisfy one of the three 
required daily meals since the daily start time for the workday will 
frequently preclude the workers from having meaningful access to the 
meal prior to departing the public accommodation for the place of 
employment. In addition, and as noted below, the employer should 
consider whether the meal is nutritionally and calorically adequate 
given the work performed and the weather conditions. For example, 
simply providing a muffin or cold cereal for breakfast would not be 
sufficient to meet an employer's obligation to provide a nutritionally 
adequate meal. Therefore, the employer may only consider such 
complimentary breakfast to meet its obligation to provide meals when 
the breakfast is readily accessible to the workers and is nutritionally 
adequate.
    The Department further explained in the NPRM that where an employer 
elects to provide meals, the meals must be provided in a timely and 
sanitary fashion. For example, prepared meals requiring refrigeration 
that are delivered hours before an anticipated mealtime would not meet 
the employer's meal obligation. In addition, providing access to third-
party vendors but not paying the vendors directly for the workers' 
meals does not constitute compliance with the requirement to provide 
meals or facilities, even if the employer provides a meal stipend.\79\ 
An employer who wishes to use a third-party vendor to provide meals may 
instead arrange for a third-party vendor and pay for the workers' meals 
or use a voucher or ticket system where the employer initially 
purchases the meals and distributes vouchers or tickets to workers to 
obtain the meals from the third-party vendor. For such arrangements, 
the employer may deduct the corresponding allowable meal charge only if 
previously disclosed and in compliance with the procedures described 
under proposed Sec.  655.173. The Department further emphasized that an 
employer may only deduct meal charges actually incurred up to the 
amount permitted under Sec.  655.173. The Department adopts that 
guidance here.
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    \79\ See Wickstrum Harvesting, LLC, 2018-TLC-00018 (May 3, 2018) 
(affirming an ETA determination denying temporary agricultural labor 
certifications based on the employer's practice of providing workers 
with a stipend for meals instead of providing meals or furnishing 
free and convenient cooking facilities).
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    As the Department did not propose any changes to this section, it 
received comparatively few comments. Several workers' rights advocacy 
organizations and one State government agency pointed out that 
employers frequently provide insufficient meals or overcharge workers 
for those meals. In response to these concerns, the State agency 
suggested that the Department adopt additional standards to ensure that 
meals provide adequate nutrition and caloric intake. One workers' 
rights advocacy organization also suggested that the Department amend 
Sec.  655.122(g) to include a statement that meal charges remain 
subject to limitations imposed by the FLSA and to require employers to 
retain records demonstrating the actual cost of providing meals. One 
agent \80\ commented that employers should be permitted to provide a 
meal stipend for workers to purchase their own meals, in lieu of 
providing the meals themselves, particularly if that is the workers' 
own preference.
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    \80\ The Department received many comments from employers in the 
reforestation industry noting that the remote, mobile nature of the 
work makes it difficult to access kitchen facilities or caterers, 
and that this was one reason why they felt it was inappropriate to 
include reforestation in the H-2A program. Those comments were 
reviewed earlier in this document, in the section discussing 
reforestation.
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    After further reviewing these comments, the Department agrees with 
the workers' rights advocacy organization that the job order should 
explicitly state the existing requirements in Sec.  655.173 that any 
meal charges remain subject to limitations and recordkeeping 
obligations imposed by the FLSA. Although these substantive 
requirements are not new, as Sec.  655.173 already includes language 
explaining that meal charges are subject to the FLSA and incorporates 
the recordkeeping requirements at 29 CFR 516.27, the Department 
concludes that explicitly reiterating these requirements in the job 
order will better inform workers of the full terms and conditions of 
any meal plan offered by the employer. Accordingly, this final rule 
revises Sec.  655.122(g) to reiterate Sec.  655.173's requirement that 
when a charge or deduction for the cost of meals would bring the 
employee's wage below the minimum wage set by the FLSA at 29 U.S.C. 
206, the charge or deduction must meet the requirements of the FLSA at 
29 U.S.C. 203(m), including the recordkeeping requirements found at 29 
CFR 516.27.
    In addition, the Department agrees that where an employer chooses 
to meet



its meal obligations by providing three meals per day to workers, those 
meals must be calorically and nutritionally adequate. An employer's 
determination as to the adequacy of the meals must be reasonable--
merely providing snacks such as chips or crackers, for example, would 
not meet an employer's meal obligations. The Department has declined to 
adopt any particular standard for nutritional balance and caloric 
sufficiency at this time but encourages employers to consult the USDA, 
National Institutes of Health, or other credible sources of nutrition 
and caloric intake guidelines.
    In addition, the Department believes that providing employers with 
examples of established guidelines for ensuring that meals are 
calorically and nutritionally adequate will offer employers greater 
certainty when developing meal plans that such plans comply with the 
requirements of Sec.  655.122(g). For example, the USDA's Dietary 
Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 provide estimated calorie needs per 
day by age, sex, and physical activity level. They also suggest daily 
and weekly amounts of food groups, subgroups, and components, which may 
assist employers in the development of an adequate meal plan. Since the 
provision of adequate meals is essential to workers' health, employers 
must exercise care in preparing meal plans. The Department encourages 
employers to consult workers, when practical, about their own 
preferences for such plans. The Department further notes that sanctions 
and remedies for an employer's failure to provide sufficient meals may 
include, as appropriate, the recovery of back wages, the assessment of 
civil money penalties, and where warranted, debarment and/or 
revocation.
    Finally, in response to the comments received regarding meal 
stipends, the Department notes that, as stated above, the provision of 
a meal stipend is not sufficient to meet an employer's meal 
obligations. The meal requirement is intended to ensure that workers 
receive adequate meals and contemplates the cost-effective preparation 
of such meals by the worker in their own kitchen or by an employer 
cooking or providing for a group. Workers who receive a stipend rather 
than three meals per day and do not have kitchen and cooking facilities 
will generally not be able to obtain equivalent meals, as they will not 
be able to purchase their individual meals with similar cost-
effectiveness, exacerbating the problem of inadequate meals. This 
problem is even more acute when workers are working or living in more 
remote or rural locations, as is frequently the case, particularly 
where they are without transportation to procure their own meals, or 
where they do not have time during the workday to easily reach shops or 
restaurants from their worksite.
    The Department notes that the January 2021 draft final rule would 
have left Sec.  655.122(g) unchanged. However, after further 
consideration of the comments received, and for the reasons discussed 
above, the Department has revised Sec.  655.122(g) to reiterate certain 
requirements of Sec.  655.173 regarding meal charges.
d. Paragraph (h), Transportation; Daily Subsistence
i. Paragraph (h)(1), Transportation to Place of Employment
    The Department's current regulation at Sec.  655.122(h)(1) 
requires, in part, that if the employer has not previously advanced 
transportation and subsistence costs to the worker or otherwise 
provided such transportation or subsistence directly to the worker by 
other means, and if the worker completes 50 percent of the work 
contract period, the employer must reimburse the worker for the 
reasonable transportation and subsistence costs incurred from the 
``place from which the worker has come to work for the employer'' to 
the place of employment.\81\ The Department currently interprets the 
``place from which the worker has come to work for the employer'' to 
mean the ``place of recruitment.'' This is frequently the worker's 
home,\82\ but as H-2A workers are often referred and recruited 
informally, the place of recruitment varies. Additionally, for a worker 
who completes the work contract period or is terminated without cause, 
and who does not have immediate subsequent H-2A employment, Sec.  
655.122(h)(2) requires the employer to provide or pay for return 
transportation and subsistence costs to the place of departure (i.e., 
recruitment).\83\
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    \81\ Section 655.122(h)(1) further requires that, when it is the 
prevailing practice among non-H-2A employers in the area to do so, 
or when offered to H-2A workers, the employer must advance 
transportation and subsistence costs to workers in corresponding 
employment. Section 655.122(h)(1) also places employers on notice 
that they may be subject to the FLSA, which operates independently 
of the H-2A program and imposes independent requirements relating to 
deductions from wages. See also Sec.  655.122(p). The Department did 
not propose any changes to these requirements and this final rule 
does not affect an FLSA-covered employer's obligations under the 
FLSA.
    \82\ See, e.g., 2009 H-2A NPRM, 74 FR 45906, 45915 (``[T]his 
Proposed Rule requires the employer to pay the costs of 
transportation and subsistence from the worker's home to and from 
the place of employment.''); OFLC FAQ (Sept. 15, 2010) (subsistence 
costs must be paid for costs incurred ``during the worker's inbound 
trip from the point of recruitment to the employer's worksite . . . 
and during the worker's outbound trip from the employer's worksite 
to the worker's home or subsequent employment'').
    \83\ Section 655.122(h)(2) further provides that, for those 
workers who do have immediate subsequent H-2A employment, the 
initial or subsequent employer must provide or cover the costs of 
transportation and subsistence for the travel between the initial 
and subsequent worksites. The obligation to provide or pay for such 
costs remains with the initial H-2A employer if the subsequent H-2A 
employer has not contractually agreed to provide or pay for such 
travel. This section also places employers on notice that they are 
not relieved of their obligation to provide or pay for return 
transportation and subsistence if an H-2A worker is displaced as a 
result of an employer's compliance with the recruitment period 
described in Sec.  655.135(d). The Department did not propose any 
changes to these requirements.
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    The NPRM generally kept the requirements of Sec.  655.122(h)(1) and 
(2) without change. However, the Department sought to promote the 
efficiency of the H-2A program by establishing a consistent location 
and method for calculating a worker's travel and subsistence costs from 
and to the place of employment. Specifically, the Department proposed 
to revise Sec.  655.122(h)(1) and (2) to require an employer to provide 
or pay for inbound and return transportation and subsistence costs 
(where otherwise required by the regulation) from and to the place from 
which the worker departed to the employer's place of employment. For an 
H-2A worker departing from a location outside of the United States who 
must obtain a visa, the Department proposed that the place from which 
the worker ``departed'' would mean the ``appropriate'' U.S. embassy or 
consulate. The Department proposed to define the ``appropriate'' U.S. 
embassy or consulate as the U.S. embassy or consulate that issued the 
visa but sought comment on other definitions of ``appropriate'' U.S. 
embassy or consulate, given the differences in visa processing 
procedures among overseas posts. The Department further sought comment 
on the place of ``departure'' for those H-2A workers who do not require 
a visa to obtain H-2A status.\84\ See 8 CFR 212.1(a); 22 CFR 41.2. The 
Department did not propose any changes to the place of departure (i.e., 
the place of recruitment) for corresponding workers and those H-2A 
workers departing from locations inside the United States.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \84\ Pursuant to DHS regulations, H-2A workers from certain 
localities need not obtain a visa to be admitted to the United 
States, including citizens of Bermuda and Canada, Bahamian 
nationals, and British subjects residing in certain islands. See 8 
CFR 212.1(a).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department received significant comments on this proposal. 
Employers,



associations, and their representatives largely supported the proposal, 
stating that it would greatly simplify reimbursement calculations to be 
able to use a single, consistent place of departure. Several employers 
also commented that it is more logical to calculate transportation and 
subsistence from the U.S. embassy or consulate that issues the worker's 
visa, because only at that point is the worker's travel for the 
employer's benefit, since workers who are not able to obtain a visa 
cannot be employed by the H-2A employer. In addition, some employers 
mentioned that the FLSA requires reimbursement of travel expenses (to 
the extent that those travel expenses bring employees below the 
applicable minimum wage) in the employee's first pay period, and stated 
that the Department should require that the requisite travel 
reimbursement be made at 50 percent of the work contract period, to 
reduce the likelihood that a worker would take advantage of travel 
reimbursement at an earlier point to come into the country and then 
abandon the H-2A employment. Some employers also suggested that the 
Department consider revising the regulation to allow the employer to 
share the transportation costs with the employee, as the work in the 
United States is mutually beneficial to both the employee and employer.
    In contrast, workers, workers' rights advocacy organizations, and 
other government agencies generally opposed this change, arguing that 
the cost of workers' transportation from their home to/from the 
embassy/consulate should be borne by the employer. They stated that 
transferring this cost to workers would place an undue burden on 
workers who frequently incur costs to obtain these job opportunities, 
thus increasing their vulnerability to debt and trafficking. Several 
commenters also noted that this change would disproportionately affect 
indigenous workers in rural communities, who live far from any U.S. 
embassy or consulate. Similarly, a couple of commenters pointed out 
that this change would encourage employers to either hire workers from 
countries with embassies that are comparatively close to the United 
States, such as Mexico, or to require workers to obtain their visas 
from U.S. consulates or embassies that are closer to the U.S. border. 
Some workers' rights advocacy organizations and government entities 
also commented that shifting this cost to workers will disadvantage and 
thus adversely affect U.S. workers by artificially reducing the cost of 
employing H-2A workers. A couple of commenters also stated that the 
proposed change would cause confusion, as employers would still be 
liable to reimburse workers for the cost of transportation from their 
home to the U.S. embassy or consulate under the FLSA. However, one 
workers' rights advocacy organization commented favorably on the 
Department's clarification that the employer is required to reimburse 
employees for all reasonable subsistence costs (including lodging) that 
arise from the time at which the worker first arrives in the embassy/
consulate city, while workers are following the necessary procedures to 
obtain their visas.
    The Department did not receive any comments on how to define the 
``appropriate'' consulate for those workers who must obtain a visa, nor 
did it receive any comments on the place of departure for those H-2A 
workers who need not obtain a visa, despite its requests for comments 
on both points.
    After carefully considering all of the comments received, the 
Department has decided to retain the requirements of the 2010 H-2A 
Final Rule requiring employers to provide, pay, or reimburse employees 
for their travel and subsistence to and from the place of recruitment, 
which in many cases will be the worker's home. See Sec.  655.122(h)(1), 
(2). Both commenters who supported the proposed change and those who 
opposed it recognized that the resulting cost allocation change would 
be significant to both workers and employers. The Department agrees 
with the several commenters that noted implementation of the proposed 
changes in the NPRM would impose an undue burden on workers, many of 
whom are already vulnerable to exploitation, and many of whom live in 
remote rural areas and incur considerable expenses traveling to the 
embassy/consulate city. The cost of the worker's inbound and outbound 
travel and subsistence is the employer's obligation, as such travel is 
primarily for the benefit and convenience of the employer, who would 
not have sufficient workers to perform necessary work without this 
travel due to the lack of willing and qualified local workers. The use 
of an administratively consistent and efficient point of departure to 
calculate the extent of such obligations, as proposed in the NPRM, did 
not alter this analysis. The Department concludes that the proposed 
changes in the NPRM would improperly shift to workers a significant 
portion of this obligation that must instead be borne fully by the 
employer.
    The Department also believes that the Department and employers 
should be able to ascertain a worker's place of recruitment without 
significant difficulty; indeed, such a standard has now been in place, 
with only a brief interruption, for more than 34 years. The recruitment 
information needed for the current rule generally is not difficult to 
obtain, and the employer has ready access to its own employees and to 
the recruiter it hired to acquire this information. To the extent it is 
difficult in any instance to ascertain the place of recruitment, the 
Department believes that any such difficulty cannot outweigh the 
significant burden that would be imposed on the worker by shifting the 
costs of transportation and subsistence from the place of recruitment 
to the embassy/consulate city. Moreover, the Department notes that the 
Department of State (DOS) has, at least temporarily, waived consular 
interviews for many nonimmigrant visa applicants, thus making it more 
difficult to determine the appropriate embassy or consulate under the 
proposal and thereby undermining the desired efficiencies of that 
proposed standard.\85\ In addition, the Department believes it is 
unlikely that any administrative efficiencies would be achieved through 
the changes proposed in the NPRM, as the changes would constitute a 
break with longstanding procedures that are well understood by 
employers. And even if any such efficiencies might be achieved, the 
Department believes that they would be minimal in comparison to the 
additional financial burden shifted onto H-2A workers. In sum, the 
Department has now determined that, as a matter of policy, any benefits 
of the proposal set forth in the NPRM are outweighed by the substantial 
costs imposed upon workers.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \85\ See https://www.state.gov/expanded-interview-waivers-for-certain-nonimmigrant-visa-applicants/.
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    Finally, in response to comments regarding the timing of 
reimbursement for inbound travel costs, the Department notes that the 
current H-2A regulation requires that inbound transportation and daily 
subsistence costs must be reimbursed when the worker has completed 50 
percent of the work contract period, if reimbursement has not already 
been made. This requirement remains unchanged. However, the Department 
reiterates that the FLSA applies independently of the H-2A program's 
requirements and thus the Department cannot relieve employers of their 
obligations under the FLSA in this rulemaking. Where an employer has 
obligations under multiple laws, the employer must comply with the more 
worker-protective of those obligations. Accordingly, to the



extent that a worker's transportation and subsistence costs bring the 
worker's pay below the applicable minimum wage during the first pay 
period of employment, employers will remain responsible under the FLSA 
for reimbursing workers to that extent during the first pay period. 
However, relatedly, the Department does not agree with commenters who 
stated that the proposed regulation would cause greater confusion for 
employers regarding their FLSA obligations because even under the 
current regulation, H-2A employers that are also subject to the FLSA 
must comply with both laws, despite any differences in the amount or 
timing of any required reimbursements.\86\
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    \86\ The Department notes that the January 2021 draft final rule 
would have accepted the NPRM proposal, with some modifications. 
However, after further consideration of the comments received, and 
for the reasons discussed above, the Department declines to adopt 
the proposed changes.
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ii. Paragraph (h)(4), Employer-Provided Transportation
    The Department proposed to clarify the minimum safety standards 
required for employer-provided transportation in the H-2A program. The 
Department's current regulation at 20 CFR 655.122(h)(4) provides that 
employer-provided transportation must comply with applicable Federal, 
State, or local laws and regulations and must provide, at a minimum, 
the same transportation safety standards, driver licensure, and vehicle 
insurance required under MSPA at 29 U.S.C. 1841, 29 CFR 500.105, and 29 
CFR 500.120 through 500.128. However, sec. 1841 of MSPA provides that 
employers must comply with transportation safety regulations 
promulgated by the Secretary, which include not only 29 CFR 500.105, 
providing transportation safety standards for vehicles other than 
passenger automobiles and station wagons used to transport workers over 
75 miles or in day-haul operations, but also 29 CFR 500.104, which 
provides transportation safety standards applicable to passenger 
automobiles or station wagons, or other vehicles, for trips of 75 miles 
or less, not including day-haul operations. The proposed rule therefore 
slightly modified the language of current 20 CFR 655.122(h)(4) by 
adding a citation to 29 CFR 500.104, to clarify that either Sec.  
500.104 or Sec.  500.105 is applicable, depending upon the type of 
vehicle that is being used to transport workers, the distance of the 
trip, and whether the vehicle is being used for a day-haul operation. 
The Department also sought comments about additional provisions that 
might help prevent driver fatigue and other unsafe driving conditions 
in order to improve safety in the transportation of H-2A and 
corresponding workers. As discussed below, this final rule adopts 
paragraph (h)(4) from the NPRM with minor clarifying changes.
    Several commenters indicated that they supported the clarification 
that both Sec. Sec.  500.104 and 500.105 are applicable to employer-
provided transportation, depending on the type of vehicle being used to 
transport workers. One commenter asked for additional clarification 
that both standards would not apply simultaneously, but that only the 
appropriate standard would apply depending on the type of vehicle used 
to provide worker transportation, i.e., either Sec.  500.104 or Sec.  
500.105. This commenter also requested that the language at 20 CFR 
655.122(h)(3), which requires the employer to ``provide transportation 
between housing provided or secured by the employer and the employer's 
worksite at no cost to the worker'' (and to which the Department did 
not propose any changes), be revised to state that employers are 
required to provide transportation to and from the job site only to 
those workers for whom the employer must provide housing. One commenter 
stated that it would be better to have 29 CFR 500.105 apply to all 
types of vehicles used to provide transportation to workers, rather 
than having Sec. Sec.  500.104 and 500.105 apply depending upon the 
type of vehicle used, indicating that this would be less confusing for 
employers and more beneficial to workers, as Sec.  500.105 incorporates 
additional safety standards. Another commenter opposed the application 
of Sec.  500.104, stating that transportation safety is the concern of 
the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and also expressing 
concern that employers would be responsible for ensuring that these 
safety standards are met by workers' personal vehicles, when workers 
choose to use their own vehicles in lieu of employer-provided 
transportation.
    Some commenters also provided feedback on the Department's request 
for comments about additional provisions that might help prevent driver 
fatigue and other unsafe driving conditions. Although one commenter 
indicated that driver fatigue was not a common or serious problem, most 
commenters acknowledged that driver fatigue and associated accidents 
can be a serious problem. However, several of these commenters stated 
that education and outreach would be more helpful than additional 
regulations on transportation safety. One commenter suggested that H-2A 
drivers have rest period requirements similar to bus drivers and other 
commercial driver's license drivers. Another commenter did not address 
fatigue specifically but recommended that the regulation require 
vehicles used to transport H-2A workers to be equipped with seatbelts, 
as well as certain changes to prevent gaps in insurance coverage where 
employers rely on workers' compensation policies to meet the 
regulation's vehicle insurance requirements. Specifically, this 
commenter recommended employers be required to identify during the 
application process the types of transportation that will be provided 
to the H-2A workers (such as inbound transportation from abroad to the 
U.S. job site, daily transportation between the lodging and worksite, 
transportation to allow the workers to perform personal errands, 
transportation between different job sites in different States, and 
outbound transportation at the conclusion of the contract period). In 
addition, the commenter recommended that if the employer proposes to 
satisfy the insurance requirements through a workers' compensation 
policy, it must provide evidence that the policy covers all of the 
kinds of transportation identified. If the employer cannot do so, the 
commenter stated that the employer should be required to purchase 
liability insurance or provide a liability bond in the amount specified 
by the MSPA regulations.
    After a careful review of the comments, the Department is adopting 
the regulatory text as proposed, with two minor changes for 
clarification, as suggested by commenters. The proposed regulatory text 
stated that all employer-provided transportation ``must provide, at a 
minimum, the same transportation safety standards, driver licensure, 
and vehicle insurance as required under 29 U.S.C. 1841, 29 CFR 500.104 
through 500.105, and 29 CFR 500.120 through 500.128.'' (Emphasis 
added.) At least one commenter was concerned that this language could 
be read as requiring both Sec. Sec.  500.104 and 500.105 to apply to 
all vehicles, as discussed above. However, pursuant to Sec.  500.102, 
Sec.  500.105 applies to ``[a]ny vehicle, other than a passenger 
automobile or station wagon'' used for any trip of a distance greater 
than 75 miles, or pursuant to a day-haul operation, or in any manner 
not otherwise specified in Sec.  500.102(a), (b), or (c), while Sec.  
500.104 applies to ``[a]ny passenger automobile or station wagon'' used 
to transport workers. Therefore, to clarify that Sec. Sec.  500.104 and 
500.105 do



not both apply simultaneously to all vehicles, but apply alternatively 
depending upon the type of vehicle used, the distance of the trip, and 
whether the vehicle is being used for a day-haul operation, this final 
rule provides that all employer-provided transportation ``must provide, 
at a minimum, the same transportation safety standards, driver 
licensure, and vehicle insurance as required under 29 U.S.C. 1841, 29 
CFR 500.104 or 500.105, and 29 CFR 500.120 through 500.128.'' (Emphasis 
added.) The Department has also made a conforming change to 20 CFR 
655.132(e)(2), with respect to the requirements for H-2ALCs.
    In addition, the prior H-2A job order form (i.e., Form ETA-790A) 
provided text fields in which employers must describe the employer's 
transportation plans for workers: (a) to the place of employment from 
the place from which the worker has come to work for the employer 
(i.e., inbound); (b) from the place of employment to the place from 
which the worker has come to work for the employer (i.e., outbound); 
and (c) daily, between the employer-provided housing and the places 
where work is performed. In response to a commenter's suggestion, the 
Department has added a clarification to 20 CFR 655.122(h)(4) to reflect 
the requirement that employers identify in the job order the mode(s) of 
transportation (e.g., vans, buses) that will be used for daily 
transportation and, if known, for inbound and outbound transportation. 
The Department has also added language to this section of the 
regulation to require an employer to identify in the job order the 
mode(s) of transportation that will be used, if any and if known, for 
other purposes, such as to allow the workers to run personal errands. 
In addition to apprising workers of the transportation the employer 
will provide, the Department concludes that this information will 
improve compliance with applicable transportation safety standards, 
including those related to vehicle insurance requirements.
    In response to a commenter's concern that these standards would 
apply to workers' personal vehicles when workers choose to use their 
own vehicles in lieu of employer-provided transportation, the 
Department notes that the regulation specifically states that all 
employer-provided transportation must meet these transportation safety 
standards. Sec.  655.122(h)(4). If the employer provides transportation 
that meets all of the requirements, and one or more employees 
voluntarily choose to use an employee's personal vehicle instead, 
without being directed or requested to do so by the employer, the 
employer would not be responsible for ensuring that the employee's 
personal vehicle meets the transportation safety standards. Therefore, 
no revision to the regulatory language is necessary to clarify this 
issue. Similarly, the Department declines to adopt another commenter's 
suggestion to modify the regulatory language at Sec.  655.122(h)(3) to 
state that employers are only required to provide transportation to and 
from the employer-provided housing and the job site to those workers 
for whom the employer must provide housing and clarifies here that the 
transportation to and from the employer-provided or secured housing and 
job site need only be provided to workers who actually live in the 
housing.
    The Department has chosen not to adopt any additional regulatory 
provisions to address driver fatigue or other safety conditions at this 
time. Although one commenter suggested that the Department apply to H-
2A drivers rest period requirements similar to those applicable to bus 
drivers and other commercial driver's license drivers, such 
requirements do not adequately address the broad variety of 
circumstances in which H-2A drivers transport workers, as many trips 
are short in both duration and distance. Moreover, the Department did 
not receive any specific suggestions or information concerning ways in 
which a rest period requirement could be tailored to address the varied 
circumstances in which H-2A drivers transport workers, and the public 
has not had an opportunity to comment on a proposal tailored to H-2A 
drivers. While the Department did not receive many comments on the 
issue of driver fatigue, several commenters indicated that additional 
education and outreach could help address driver fatigue, as discussed 
above. Accordingly, the Department recently published a farmworker 
transportation safety web page that includes tips and best practices 
from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier 
Safety Administration related to driver fatigue, unsafe driving 
practices, and driver distractions, available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/agriculture/transportation-safety, and will further 
consider how it can address this issue.
    Although the Department has carefully considered the suggestion 
that seatbelt requirements should be specifically added to the 
transportation safety standards, the Department notes that the issue is 
generally addressed by applicable State and local laws and regulations. 
The Department reminds employers that the current transportation safety 
standards already require compliance with all applicable Federal, 
State, or local laws and regulations, including applicable State or 
local seatbelt requirements. Currently, every State except one (New 
Hampshire) has an applicable seatbelt law, and the majority of States 
require adults to wear seatbelts in all seats, subject to certain 
exceptions. See Governors Highway Safety Association, State Laws by 
Issue: Seat Belts (last visited Dec. 14, 2021), https://www.ghsa.org/state-laws/issues/seat%20belts. Accordingly, seatbelt regulations will 
not be issued at this time. The Department also appreciates the 
insightful analysis of the potential problems that can arise when 
employers rely on workers' compensation policies to meet their 
liability insurance obligations, and the possible regulatory revisions 
that might address those problems. However, the Department did not 
propose any changes to the regulation regarding the sufficiency of 
workers' compensation to cover vehicle transportation in lieu of 
vehicle insurance. Many parties who would be affected by any change in 
these longstanding requirements therefore had no reason to anticipate 
any such changes or to provide comment or propose alternatives. 
Accordingly, the Department declines to adopt any regulatory changes to 
these provisions in this rulemaking.
    However, the Department reminds employers that workers' 
compensation insurance provides specific coverage that varies from 
State to State and may not cover all circumstances in which the workers 
are transported. For instance, transportation for a non-work-related 
purpose, such as a visit to the grocery store or laundromat, may not be 
covered under the State policy. Additionally, State workers' 
compensation coverage may not apply to travel outside the State, or in 
some States, it may not apply to travel to and from work. If using a 
State workers' compensation policy to meet the insurance requirements, 
it is important to be aware of precisely what type of travel is covered 
by the State policy and, if necessary, procure additional coverage 
through a liability insurance policy or liability bond for 
transportation not covered by the State law. An employer's failure to 
maintain required insurance coverage for vehicles used to transport H-
2A workers or workers in corresponding employment may result in the 
assessment of civil money penalties. A violation of the transportation 
safety requirements may



also serve as the basis for debarment or for revocation of the 
temporary agricultural labor certification.
e. Paragraph (i), Three-Fourths Guarantee
    Although the Department did not propose, and in this final rule 
does not adopt, any revisions to Sec.  655.122(i), a few employers and 
employer representatives provided feedback regarding changes that they 
would like to see incorporated into this section. Three commenters 
stated that due to the variability inherent in agriculture based on 
factors beyond the employer's control, which can make it difficult to 
predict the amount of work that will need to be performed in a given 
season, the three-fourths guarantee should be based on the 35-hour per 
workweek required minimum rather than on the number of hours in a 
workday as stated in the job order. Another commenter requested the 
removal of the language in Sec.  655.122(i)(1)(iv) stating that the 
worker cannot be required to work for more than the number of hours 
specified in the job order for a workday, or on the worker's Sabbath or 
on Federal holidays.
    The Department has carefully considered these comments. However, 
the Department did not propose any changes to this section in the NPRM 
and did not ask for comments regarding any possible modifications of 
the three-fourths guarantee. Accordingly, many affected parties did not 
provide any comments on the topic of the three-fourths guarantee, and 
the Department declines to make any significant changes to this 
provision in the absence of input from the regulated community as a 
whole.
f. Paragraph (j), Earning Records
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this provision to clarify 
current regulatory requirements at Sec.  655.122(j)(1), requiring an 
employer to maintain a worker's home address, among other information. 
The Department proposed that an employer maintain the worker's actual 
permanent home address, which is usually in the worker's country of 
origin. Having the worker's permanent addresses would permit the 
Department to contact a worker in the case of an investigation or 
litigation, or to distribute back wages. In its effort to enhance 
enforcement and modernize the H-2A program, the Department also 
requested comments on whether to require an employer to maintain 
records of a worker's email address and phone number(s) in the worker's 
home country, when available. As discussed below, the Department is 
adopting the proposed changes to paragraph (j)(1), as well as a 
requirement that the employer maintain records of a worker's email 
address and phone number(s) in the worker's home country, when 
available.
    The Department received very few comments in response to its 
proposal and request for comments on this section. Three commenters 
opposed the proposal, expressing concern about an employer's ability to 
verify the accuracy of the workers' permanent addresses, phone numbers, 
or email addresses, with one commenter also noting that many H-2A 
workers may consider that information to be private. Another commenter 
noted that DHS should already have H-2A workers' permanent addresses 
and suggested that the Department obtain that information from them. 
Conversely, another commenter supported the Department's proposal, 
commenting that it was a useful clarification and suggesting that an 
employer maintain records of its H-2A workers' landlines if a cellphone 
number is not available.
    Other commenters requested that employers no longer be required to 
maintain a record of hours offered (as opposed to merely hours worked), 
as such information is difficult to track and not needed unless the 
employer wishes to use it towards the three-fourths guarantee. These 
comments are outside the scope of the Department's proposal and, as 
such, were not considered at this time.
    After consideration of the comments, the Department adopts 
paragraph (j)(1) as proposed with two modifications. Specifically, 
paragraph (j)(1) in this final rule requires employers to maintain 
records of a worker's permanent home address and, when available, the 
worker's permanent email address and phone number(s). As with the 
worker's permanent home address, the worker's permanent email address 
and phone number(s) will usually mean the worker's contact information, 
usually in the worker's country of origin. Based on its enforcement 
experience, the Department concludes that maintaining this information, 
when available, will further enhance the efficiency of the Department's 
enforcement efforts by providing multiple points of contact for workers 
once the workers have left the employer's place of employment. And 
while the Department acknowledges that employers may not have the 
ability to verify the accuracy of all contact information provided by 
their workers, which may occasionally result in the Department 
attempting to contact a worker at an incorrect address, or that some 
workers may decline to share this information with an employer, the 
benefits of maintaining this information outweigh these potential 
concerns. Finally, the Department notes that the January 2021 draft 
final rule would have left the regulatory text unchanged from the 2010 
H-2A Final Rule. However, upon further consideration of the comments 
and in light of the substantial benefit that the collection of this 
information would confer to the Department in its enforcement efforts, 
the Department adopts the above-described changes in this final rule.
g. Paragraph (l), Rates of Pay
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed to remove the statement ``[i]f 
the worker is paid by the hour'' and replace it with ``[e]xcept for 
occupations covered by Sec. Sec.  655.200 through 655.235.'' As 
explained in the NPRM, this revision clarifies that the highest 
applicable wage requirement applies, regardless of the unit of pay, for 
all employers except those employing workers primarily engaged in the 
herding or production of livestock on the range (i.e., occupations 
covered by Sec. Sec.  655.200 through 655.235), which are the only 
occupations subject to a different wage methodology. If an employer is 
certified for a monthly salary because, for example, the prevailing 
wage rate is a monthly rate, the requirement to pay the highest 
applicable wage means that the employer must pay the hourly AEWR for 
all hours worked in a given month, if paying the hourly AEWR for all 
hours worked in that month would result in a higher wage than the 
certified monthly salary. The Department did not receive comments on 
this specific proposal, and therefore adopts the language as proposed.
    Additionally, the Department proposed to make corresponding changes 
to align this paragraph with the proposed changes to Sec.  655.120(a). 
Those changes, as well as related comments, are discussed in more 
detail in the preamble to Sec.  655.120(a). For the reasons stated in 
that section, the Department adopts the language in the NPRM with minor 
revisions to align with language regarding prevailing wages at Sec.  
655.120(c). As discussed further in the preamble to Sec.  
655.120(c)(1)(iii), the revised language in this paragraph recognizes 
that there may be a prevailing wage for a distinct work task or tasks 
within a crop or agricultural activity in certain situations.
    The Department also received comments urging the Department to 
revise productivity standards for workers paid by the piece. One of 
these



commenters suggested the Department exercise more flexibility in its 
review of productivity standards, while another commenter suggested a 
more rigorous review. Because the Department did not propose changes to 
productivity standards, these comments are beyond the scope of this 
rulemaking.
h. Paragraph (n), Abandonment of Employment or Termination for Cause
    The Department's current regulation at Sec.  655.122(n) states that 
if a worker voluntarily abandons employment or is terminated for cause, 
and the employer notifies the NPC (and DHS if the worker is an H-2A 
worker), then the employer is not responsible for paying or providing 
for the worker's subsequent transportation and subsistence expenses, 
and that worker is not entitled to the three-fourths guarantee 
described in Sec.  655.122(i). Under the Department's changes related 
to Sec.  655.153, discussed below, timely notice to the NPC of such 
abandonment or termination will also relieve the employer from its 
otherwise applicable obligation to contact those U.S. workers it 
employed in the previous year who abandoned or were terminated for 
cause to solicit their return to the job. As discussed below, current 
Sec.  655.153 does not require the employer to have provided the NPC 
with such notice in order to be relieved of the duty to contact former 
U.S. workers who abandoned the worksite or were dismissed for cause. 
The Department also proposed to revise Sec.  655.122(n) to require an 
employer to maintain records of the notification to the NPC detailed in 
the same section, including records related to U.S. workers' 
abandonment of employment or termination for cause during the previous 
year, for not less than 3 years from the date of the temporary 
agricultural labor certification. As discussed below, this final rule 
adopts paragraph (n) from the NPRM with minor clarifying changes.
    The Department received comments from employers, agents, and trade 
associations addressing this section. Most of these comments suggested 
that employers should not be required to notify the NPC of the 
abandonment or termination of U.S. workers. These commenters stated 
that, although it may be important to notify DHS that H-2A workers are 
out-of-status, DOL does not similarly need to know the status of U.S. 
workers, making it unfair to penalize employers for not making such a 
report, particularly as it is not required under other programs. 
Commenters also suggested that if the notification requirement for U.S. 
workers was maintained in the final rule, employers should not be 
required to maintain a record of that notification, as that additional 
recordkeeping burden is an inefficient use of the employer's resources, 
particularly as the employer will generally have other records of some 
kind demonstrating that the workers abandoned their employment or were 
terminated for cause. One commenter also asked the Department to 
clarify that these notification and recordkeeping requirements apply 
only to U.S. workers in corresponding employment and suggested that the 
requirement be even further limited to full-time workers hired during 
the recruitment period pursuant to the job order, due to the fluid and 
migratory nature of the agricultural workforce. Another commenter 
suggested that abandonment, which under the current regulation is 
deemed to begin after a worker fails to report for work at the 
regularly scheduled time for 5 consecutive working days without the 
consent of the employer, instead be deemed to begin after a worker 
fails to report for work at the regularly scheduled time for 3 
consecutive working days without the consent of the employer, as 
workers may need to be replaced quickly due to the perishable nature of 
agricultural goods.
    The Department has reviewed the comments suggesting that employers 
not be required to notify the NPC of the abandonment or termination for 
cause of U.S. workers. As an initial matter, the Department notes the 
requirement to notify the NPC of such U.S. worker abandonment or 
termination for cause is not new; the current regulations require 
employers to provide such notice in order to be relieved of the 
otherwise applicable contractual obligations relating to outbound 
transportation and the three-fourths guarantee. The Department proposed 
no changes to the notification requirements currently in place to 
relieve employers of their transportation and three-fourths guarantee 
contractual obligations and, accordingly, declines to adopt any changes 
to those existing requirements as beyond the scope of this rulemaking. 
As discussed further below, the Department has adopted its proposal 
providing that such notification to the NPC is required to relieve the 
employer from its obligation to contact these U.S. workers in the 
subsequent year under Sec.  655.153. Accordingly, the Department has 
revised proposed Sec.  655.122(n) in this final rule to clarify such 
relief by explicitly referencing the employer's obligations under Sec.  
655.153. Providing notification to the NPC of the abandonment or 
termination of U.S. workers is not a penalty for the employer. On the 
contrary, it is an opportunity for the employer to cancel its existing 
obligations to pay for outbound travel and subsistence; ensure that the 
employer has met the three-fourths guarantee; and to contact former 
U.S. workers during recruitment, as discussed in reference to Sec.  
655.153 below. Requiring notification to the NPC also ensures that the 
Department is on notice that the employer considers these obligations 
to be inapplicable to specific workers. This notification also helps 
the employer establish that a worker abandoned the job or was 
terminated for cause.
    Similarly, the Department has also decided to retain the proposed 
requirement that the employer must maintain a record of its 
notification of abandonment or termination for cause to the NPC to be 
relieved of their further contractual obligations to such U.S. workers. 
Once the employer has provided the required notification to the NPC for 
these workers, maintaining a record of such notifications with the 
employer's other records relating to the workers' abandonment or 
termination for cause will not substantially increase the employer's 
recordkeeping burden. In contrast, maintaining these records could 
greatly assist employers and the Department in establishing that the 
employer is no longer required to provide outbound travel and 
subsistence, the three-fourths guarantee, or recruitment contact for 
such workers. In response to one commenter's request for clarification, 
the Department confirms that the requirements for notification of 
abandonment or termination for cause of U.S. workers, including the 
recordkeeping requirement, are applicable only when the employer wishes 
to be relieved of further contractual obligations toward those workers; 
if the employer does not have any contractual obligation to provide 
outbound travel and subsistence, pay the three-fourths guarantee, or 
contact that worker for recruitment, the employer need not make such a 
notification for that worker.
    The Department has considered the comment suggesting that the 
abandonment be deemed to have occurred after a worker fails to report 
for work at the regularly scheduled time for 3 consecutive working days 
without the consent of the employer, as opposed to 5 consecutive 
working days, but has decided to retain the current regulatory 
language. As the Department did not propose any changes to, or request 
comments on, the length of time that a worker must fail to report to 
work before the worker is deemed to have



abandoned their employment, the affected parties had no reason to 
anticipate that the Department contemplated a change to this provision, 
or to provide their input as to the appropriate length of time that 
should elapse before an absence should be considered abandonment and 
what factors should be considered. Therefore, the Department finds it 
is not appropriate to adopt such a change at this time.
i. Paragraph (o), Contract Impossibility
    The NPRM proposed to retain the contract impossibility provision at 
paragraph (o) without change. Although the Department did not propose 
changes to, or invite comments regarding, this paragraph, the 
Department received comments from agents, trade associations, and a 
State government agency that addressed the contract impossibility 
provision. As discussed below, this provision remains unchanged from 
the NPRM. All of the commenters supported inclusion of the contract 
impossibility provision in the final rule. Three commenters suggested 
that the Department modify the provision. One of the commenters 
requested the Department add a specified timeframe for the CO's 
determination, such as within 48 hours of receipt. The second commenter 
requested the Department remove the employer's obligation to make 
efforts to transfer H-2A workers to comparable work and retain the 
obligation for U.S. workers only. The third commenter requested the 
Department revise this provision to clarify that an employer's request 
for a contract impossibility determination may involve some, but not 
all, of its workers, depending on the nature of the Act of God 
involved.
    Revisions to paragraph (o) are beyond the scope of this rulemaking 
and are therefore not being made. A revision to paragraph (o) is not 
necessary, however, to address the commenter's concern about Acts of 
God that reduce, but do not eliminate, an employer's need for temporary 
workers. This provision involves permissible termination of the work 
contract between the employer and individual workers in the event that 
an Act of God renders the planned contract inviable. In the interest of 
striking an appropriate balance between ensuring fairness to workers 
and minimizing work contract disruptions, the Department does not 
require that requests for relief under the contract impossibility 
provision end the contracts with the entirety of an employer's 
workforce. Rather, employers are encouraged to request reductions in 
the quantity of workers needed as best fits their particular 
circumstances.
j. Paragraph (p), Deductions
    The Department's current regulation at Sec.  655.122(p) prohibits 
unauthorized deductions. An employer must disclose any deductions not 
required by law in the job offer. The Department noted, however, that 
employers often fail to disclose deductions by improperly withholding 
Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. Alternatively, 
employers sometimes properly disclose and withhold Federal income tax 
at the worker's request but fail to remit the withholding to the proper 
agencies. These actions, even if inadvertent, constitute violations of 
the H-2A statute and regulations.
    The Department did not propose any change to the regulation at 
Sec.  655.122(p), but clarified in the preamble to the NPRM that 
according to the IRS, an employer may not withhold FICA taxes from an 
H-2A worker's paycheck, and that an employer generally is not required 
to withhold Federal income tax from an H-2A worker's paycheck. In some 
situations, employers may even be prohibited from withholding Federal 
income tax under the H-2A program. The Department received no comments 
in response to this section of the NPRM and has made no changes to the 
regulation in this final rule.
k. Paragraph (q), Disclosure of Work Contract
    The Department's current regulation at Sec.  655.122(q) requires an 
employer to disclose a copy of the work contract between the employer 
and the worker in a language understood by the worker as necessary or 
reasonable. At a minimum, the work contract must contain all of the 
provisions required by Sec.  655.122. In the absence of a separate, 
written work contract entered into between the employer and the worker, 
the required terms of the job order and the certified Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification will be the work contract. The time 
by which the work contract must be provided depends on whether the 
worker is entering the United States to commence employment or is 
already present in the United States; however, for most H-2A workers, 
this must occur by the time the worker applies for a visa. The 
Department proposed to retain the current disclosure requirements with 
one minor revision to specify that the work contract must be disclosed 
to those H-2A workers who do not require a visa to enter the United 
States under 8 CFR 212.1(a)(1) not later than the time of an offer of 
employment. This is the same point at which H-2A workers who are 
already in the United States because they are moving between H-2A 
employers receive the work contract. The Department did not receive any 
comments on this proposed change and therefore retains the language as 
proposed.
4. Section 655.123, Optional Pre-Filing Positive Recruitment of U.S. 
Workers
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed to add a new provision at 
Sec.  655.123 to permit an employer to begin to conduct its positive 
recruitment efforts earlier in the H-2A application process.\87\ 
Specifically, the Department proposed new standards and procedures 
establishing a ``pre-filing'' positive recruitment option that would 
allow an employer to either begin positive recruitment activities after 
the SWA's acceptance of the job order for clearance under Sec.  655.121 
and before submission of the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification to the NPC (i.e., pre-filing), or wait for the CO's NOA, 
consistent with current practice. After considering the comments 
received in response to the NPRM, and the subsequent impact of the 
Department's decisions in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule 
(effective October 21, 2019) on the proposed optional pre-filing 
positive recruitment provision, the Department has decided not to adopt 
Sec.  655.123 in this final rule for the reasons discussed below.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \87\ At the time the NPRM was published, an employer's positive 
recruitment requirements included the activities set forth in 
Sec. Sec.  655.151 through 655.154 of the 2010 H-2A Final Rule. 
Subsequently, the Department rescinded Sec. Sec.  655.151 and 
655.152 via the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule to modernize the 
method(s) used to advertise H-2A job opportunities. 84 FR 49439.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The INA requires the Secretary to deny a temporary agricultural 
labor certification if ``the employer has not made positive recruitment 
efforts within a multi-state region of traditional or expected labor 
supply where the Secretary finds that there are a significant number of 
qualified United States workers who, if recruited, would be willing to 
make themselves available for work at the time and place needed.'' See 
8 U.S.C. 1188(b)(4). The requirement for employers to engage in 
positive recruitment is in addition to, and occurs within the same time 
period as, the circulation of the job order through the interstate 
clearance system maintained by the SWAs. Id. Under the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule, employers begin to conduct required positive recruitment steps 
after the CO reviews an H-2A application and issues a NOA authorizing 
such recruitment of U.S. workers to commence.



    As explained in the NPRM, the Department engaged in the 2019 H-2A 
Recruitment Final Rule contemporaneously with this rulemaking to 
modernize the method(s) used to advertise H-2A job opportunities for 
compliance with the positive recruitment requirements of the 2010 H-2A 
Final Rule. On September 20, 2019, shortly before the public comment 
period for this NPRM closed on September 24, 2019, the Department 
published the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, which became effective 
October 21, 2019. The 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule rescinded 
Sec. Sec.  655.151 and 655.152; in lieu of employer-placed print 
advertisements in a newspaper of general circulation in the AIE, the 
Department leverages its enhanced electronic job registry, 
SeasonalJobs.dol.gov, to advertise H-2A job opportunities 
electronically on the employer's behalf. This change in the recruitment 
process reduced the employer's mandatory positive recruitment 
activities, while increasing post-acceptance job order exposure through 
the Department's electronic job registry. Moving forward, an employer's 
mandatory positive recruitment activities include contacting former 
U.S. workers, as required under Sec.  655.153, and following the CO's 
instructions regarding additional positive recruitment activities for 
the job opportunity, as applicable under Sec.  655.154. However, the 
2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule did not change the existing timeframe 
for an employer's positive recruitment activities. As a result, 
effective October 21, 2019, the CO instructs employers in the NOA to 
begin positive recruitment of U.S. workers under Sec. Sec.  655.153 and 
655.154 and, contemporaneously, the CO posts the job opportunity on the 
Department's electronic job registry.
    Applying the changes implemented in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final 
Rule to the optional pre-filing positive recruitment procedures 
proposed in the NPRM at Sec.  655.123, an employer would have begun 
positive recruitment activities contained in Sec. Sec.  655.153 
(contact with former employees) and 655.154 (statutorily required 
recruitment in a multi-State region of traditional or expected labor 
supply, as designated by the Secretary), as applicable, within 7 days 
of SWA job order acceptance. Then, no more than 50 calendar days before 
its first date of need, the employer would have submitted an initial 
recruitment report to the CO with its H-2A application. If the employer 
complied with the procedures described in Sec.  655.123 and its H-2A 
application met all requirements for certification at the time of 
submission, the CO would have been able to issue the temporary labor 
certification as the CO's first action after review. An employer 
choosing not to begin positive recruitment early, following the 
proposed procedures at Sec.  655.123, would have waited for the CO to 
issue the NOA and then begun positive recruitment in compliance with 
Sec. Sec.  655.153 and 655.154.
    Proposed Sec.  655.123 would not have changed an employer's 
obligation to consider and hire able, willing, and qualified U.S. 
workers who will be available at the time and place needed to perform 
the labor or services involved in the application. Likewise, the 
proposed provision would not have changed the methods of contacting or 
recruiting U.S. workers an employer must use before hiring H-2A 
workers, or the duration of the recruitment period specified in Sec.  
655.135(d). Rather, Sec.  655.123 would have allowed the employer to 
start compliance with its positive recruitment obligations earlier in 
the labor certification process and to engage in active recruitment of 
U.S. workers over a longer period of time before certification. In 
addition, Sec.  655.123 would have streamlined the certification 
process for employers who demonstrated compliance with pre-filing 
recruitment obligations and met all other conditions of certification 
by permitting the CO to issue a certification determination as the 
first action.
    The Department received several comments from employers, employer 
associations, agents, and trade associations that generally supported 
the optional pre-filing positive recruitment concept proposed. They 
viewed the option to begin positive recruitment activities earlier than 
current procedures allow, and thereby potentially receive a temporary 
labor certification as the CO's first action, as a way to reduce 
paperwork and burdens associated with this step, increase efficiency, 
and help prevent delays in workers' arrival, without undermining the 
program's integrity. A few also believed that the Department's 
certification determination would be better informed. A farm owner, for 
example, opined that beginning the recruitment period earlier would 
improve notice and access to these job opportunities for U.S. workers. 
Commenters employed as farmworkers generally noted the importance of 
notice and access to job opportunities, both in advance for planning 
purposes and after the work may have begun.
    Two workers' rights advocacy organizations opposed the adoption of 
the proposed Sec.  655.123. One asserted the proposal would weaken the 
requirement that employers first try to diligently recruit and hire 
U.S. workers before hiring H-2A workers. The other expressed concern 
that positive recruitment activities too far in advance (e.g., 50 days) 
would waste employer resources and be ineffective because workers are 
engaged in other work, in other places; if the employer's positive 
recruitment activities occur earlier than the current regulatory 
timeline, the intended audience of the recruitment will not ``[be] 
around to hear it.'' The commenter urged the Department to retain the 
``traditional systems of recruitment already in place.''
    Within the proposed pre-filing recruitment provision, two agents, a 
farm owner, and a workers' rights advocacy organization objected to the 
proposed timing requirement for submission of the initial pre-filing 
recruitment report. The agents considered the proposed timeframe 
requirement artificial and unnecessary due to the requirements that 
employers continue hiring throughout the recruitment period, update the 
recruitment report as necessary, and retain a final recruitment report 
with an account of all applicants and referrals received. In addition, 
one saw the timeframe requirement as potentially creating delays, for 
example, if the CO questioned discrepancies between the SWA referral 
database and the employer's initial recruitment report. The farm owner 
asserted that in ``most years'' there are no applicants or referrals. 
The workers' rights advocacy organization objected on the grounds 
insufficient recruitment would have taken place before the employer 
submitted the initial pre-filing recruitment report to the CO.
    At least one commenter found the combination of optional procedures 
and mandatory obligations in proposed Sec.  655.123 confusing and 
concerning. For example, the commenter feared employers might 
incorrectly interpret paragraphs (d) and (e) of proposed Sec.  655.123, 
relating to interviews and consideration and hiring of U.S. workers, as 
applicable only to pre-filing recruitment, not to all H-2A program 
recruitment. The commenter urged the Department to return the interview 
requirements provision to Sec.  655.152(j); however, the Department 
rescinded Sec.  655.152 in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule. 
Another commenter urged the Department to integrate regulatory changes 
implemented through the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule when 
considering comments under this rulemaking process.



    The January 2021 draft final rule would have adopted the 
Department's pre-filing recruitment proposal at Sec.  655.123, with 
clarifying modifications. For example, in that draft final rule the 
Department recognized the necessity of clarifying that the proposed 
pre-filing recruitment was an optional process. In addition, in the 
January 2021 draft final rule, the Department sought to clarify that 
those employers who opted to use the process remained subject to the 
program's recruitment obligations. After further considering the 
comments received and the Department's changes to the recruitment 
process in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, the Department has 
decided not to adopt the pre-filing recruitment provision and will not 
include proposed Sec.  655.123 in this final rule. However, the 
Department has decided to retain but relocate to Sec.  655.135(c) the 
mandatory recruitment obligation provisions proposed at paragraphs (d) 
and (e) of Sec.  655.123. The Department recognizes the comments that 
highlighted potential benefits of the proposed provision but is 
sensitive to the potential confusion that could result from adoption of 
the proposed provision. In light of the concerns raised, the Department 
considers retaining the current system beneficial, as explained below. 
Therefore, this final rule retains the positive recruitment process and 
timing of the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, as modified by the 2019 H-2A 
Recruitment Final Rule. As the Department is not adopting the proposed 
optional pre-filing recruitment provision, this final rule does not 
include minor revisions to other sections, like Sec. Sec.  655.144 and 
655.150, that were included in the January 2021 draft final rule to 
conform those sections to the optional pre-filing recruitment process.
    Comments on both this proposal and the proposed recruitment period 
changes at Sec.  655.135(d) expressed the importance of aligning the 
timing of the employer's recruitment activities, such as contact with 
former U.S. workers, with the time periods during which U.S. workers 
are accustomed to such contact and most likely to be looking for 
agricultural job opportunities (e.g., close to or after the start date 
of work). In addition, employers may not be certain whether a potential 
pool of workers the OFLC Administrator identified through the labor 
supply State designation process proposed at Sec.  655.154(d), and the 
related information posted regarding recruitment of that pool of 
workers, applies to its Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification. Furthermore, specific information about reaching the 
workers (e.g., organization point of contact information) may change 
between the OFLC Administrator's annual posting of traditional or 
expected labor supply State determinations, which would hinder 
employers' pre-filing recruitment efforts. In contrast, in a case-
specific NOA, the CO can provide current, accurate information 
regarding additional positive recruitment required to recruit a pool of 
workers relevant to the employer's job opportunity.
    The Department believes that retaining the longstanding requirement 
that employers contact former U.S. workers and conduct additional 
positive recruitment activities, as applicable, following the CO's 
instructions in the NOA, in combination with the Department's decision 
to retain the requirement that employers continue to hire qualified 
U.S. workers through 50 percent of the contract period (as discussed in 
the preamble to Sec.  655.135(d) below) will more effectively ensure 
U.S. worker access to H-2A job opportunities advertised through 
positive recruitment activities than the optional pre-filing 
recruitment proposed in the NPRM. This will also avoid the potential 
for confusion among U.S. job seekers or employers cited above. 
Specifically, the Department believes that this final rule will ensure 
that: (1) recruitment of U.S. workers occurs for a sufficient period of 
time before and after the first date of need; (2) active employer 
recruitment occurs during a period of time that is most consistent with 
the common job seeking practices of U.S. agricultural workers; and, (3) 
where appropriate, employers receive specific instructions in the NOA 
regarding the additional positive recruitment activity required and the 
documentation to retain as evidence of compliance. As discussed above 
and based on the Department's past experience administering the 
existing positive recruitment procedures and requirements, the 
Department believes these provisions effectively provide notice of 
available job opportunities to U.S. workers.
    As a result, through this final rule, the Department retains the 
positive recruitment timing required in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule. An 
employer will continue to file a job order no fewer than 60 calendar 
days before the employer's first date of need, except where the 
employer files the application under the emergency situations provision 
at Sec.  655.134, and, upon SWA approval of the job order, intrastate 
recruitment will begin. Recruitment through the active job order will 
expand to interstate clearance with the CO's issuance of a NOA and 
continue throughout the 50 percent period. When issuing the NOA, the CO 
will post the job opportunity on the Department's electronic job 
registry, which will broadcast the job offer information through the 
Department's enhanced electronic job registry at SeasonalJobs.dol.gov 
and ensure the job opportunity posting is continuously accessible to 
prospective applicants, regardless of their location, until the 
recruitment period at Sec.  655.135(d) ends. In addition, upon receipt 
of the NOA, the employer will follow the CO's instructions and begin to 
conduct positive recruitment activities by contacting former employees 
to determine their willingness to accept the employer's job 
opportunity, as discussed further in the preamble to Sec.  655.153 
below, and conducting additional positive recruitment based on the OFLC 
Administrator's determination that there are a significant number of 
qualified U.S. workers who, if recruited, would be willing to make 
themselves available for work at the time and place needed, as 
discussed in the preamble to Sec. Sec.  655.143 and 655.154.
    In addition to the comments addressed above, some commenters 
offered opinions about matters that had been open for public notice and 
comment through the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule; those comments 
are outside the scope of this rulemaking. Other commenters expressed 
general concerns about employers' methods of contact, interview 
procedures, consideration of applicants or referrals, and documentation 
retention, which are matters that are also outside the scope of the 
optional pre-filing positive recruitment timing proposed in the NPRM.
5. Section 655.124, Withdrawal of a Job Order
    The NPRM proposed to reorganize all withdrawal provisions so that, 
for example, the procedure for withdrawing the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification and job order is located in the 
section of the rule where an employer at that stage of the labor 
certification process would look for such a provision. Accordingly, the 
NPRM proposed revisions to move the job order withdrawal provisions at 
Sec.  655.172(a) of the 2010 H-2A Final Rule to this new section, and 
to conform with other proposed changes in the NPRM. The Department 
received a few comments on this provision, none of which necessitated 
substantive changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as



discussed below, this provision remains unchanged from the NPRM.
    In the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, all withdrawal provisions were found 
at Sec.  655.172, in the ``Post-Certification'' section of the 
regulations, regardless of the stage of processing to which they 
applied. For example, at Sec.  655.172(a), the 2010 H-2A Final Rule 
addressed the conditions under which an employer could withdraw a job 
order before it submitted the related Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification. To make the rule better organized and more 
user-friendly, the Department proposed to reorganize the withdrawal 
provisions, in part, by moving the content of Sec.  655.172(a) of the 
2010 H-2A Final Rule to the ``Pre-Filing Procedures'' section of the 
regulations, in a new proposed Sec.  655.124. This change would place 
the job order withdrawal provision in a more logical location within 
the regulations--in the ``Pre-Filing Procedures'' section with the job 
order filing and review procedures, and before the ``Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification Filing Procedures'' section that 
begins at Sec.  655.130.
    In addition to the proposal to relocate the job order withdrawal 
provision to Sec.  655.124, the Department proposed minor revisions for 
both clarity and consistency with other proposed changes. In proposed 
Sec.  655.124(a), the Department continued the 2010 H-2A Final Rule's 
reminder in Sec.  655.172(a) that ``withdrawal of a job order does not 
nullify existing obligations to those workers recruited in connection 
with the placement of a job order pursuant to this subpart'' with 
greater simplicity. In proposed Sec.  655.124(b), consistent with the 
proposal employers submit their job orders to the NPC, the Department 
proposed to establish the NPC as the recipient of job order withdrawal 
requests.
    The Department received no comments objecting to the proposed 
reorganization of the job order withdrawal provision from Sec.  
655.172(a) to Sec.  655.124. However, an agent voiced concerns about 
establishing the NPC as the recipient of job order withdrawal requests, 
and that agent and a few other commenters remarked on an employer's 
continuing obligations after the job order's withdrawal.
    Regarding the Department's proposal to establish the NPC as the 
recipient of job order withdrawal requests, the commenter argued that 
the Department did not consider the costs and benefits of this 
particular change, particularly that it would result in undue delays in 
processing, and also that it lacks the authority to perform what the 
commenter considers an inherently State function. The Department 
respectfully disagrees. The costs and benefits of establishing the NPC 
as the conduit through which job orders are received and transmitted to 
the SWAs, including technological efficiencies gained in the processing 
of job orders through the Department's electronic filing system, are 
addressed in connection with Sec.  655.121. Those costs and benefits 
encompass receipt and transmission of job order withdrawal requests. In 
addition, the Department addressed similar concerns about possible 
delays in the preamble to Sec.  655.121. The NPC will transmit an 
employer's request for withdrawal of a job order within the FLAG system 
to all SWAs actively recruiting under the job order. The SWAs that 
received the job order in accordance with Sec.  655.121(e)(1) and, if 
applicable, Sec.  655.121(f) will receive notice simultaneously and 
without delay. Further, the SWAs, not the NPC, will initiate procedures 
to close withdrawn job orders in the clearance system, as appropriate. 
As with its transmission of the initial job order submission to the SWA 
for review under Sec.  655.121(e)(1) and transmission of the approved 
job order to other SWAs for clearance under Sec.  655.121(f), the 
procedural role proposed in Sec.  655.124 does not exceed the NPC's 
authority.
    The same agent and a few other commenters objected to employers 
being ``obligated to comply with the terms and conditions of employment 
contained in the job order with respect to all workers recruited in 
connection with that job order'' after withdrawal of the job order. Two 
suggested an employer should be required to honor the terms of a job 
order only if the employer has filed an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification with the NPC, with one citing emergency 
circumstances beyond an employer's control that may prevent the 
employer from continuing with the H-2A process. The other two 
commenters objected to continuing obligations beyond withdrawal of the 
job order, apparently without regard to when the job order is 
withdrawn. However, these comments overstate the Department's proposed 
changes and conflict with the underlying obligation that was continued 
from Sec.  655.172 of the 2010 H-2A Final Rule.
    Although the Department proposed clearer language to express an 
employer's continuing obligations to a worker recruited in connection 
with the job order it seeks to withdraw, the Department proposed no 
change to the underlying requirement. If an employer successfully 
recruits workers through SWA referrals, the employer is bound by the 
terms and conditions of employment offered in the job order with 
respect to those workers, including but not limited to wages, housing, 
and transportation. See Sec.  653.501(c)(3)(viii). As stated in the 
NPRM, and the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, these obligations attach at 
recruitment and continue after withdrawal. As a result, these comments 
recommend changes that are beyond the scope of this rulemaking.

C. Applications for Temporary Employment Certification Filing 
Procedures

1. Section 655.130, Application Filing Requirements
a. Paragraphs (a), What To File; (c), Location and Method of Filing; 
and (d), Original Signature
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to these sections to clarify the 
minimum content requirements of a complete Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification; modernize the application process by 
requiring that employers, unless a specific exemption applies, 
electronically submit the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification and all required supporting documentation; and permit the 
use of electronic signatures by the employer and, if applicable, the 
employer's authorized attorney, agent, or surety. The Department 
received many comments on the proposed amendments to these sections, 
none of which necessitated substantive changes to the regulatory text. 
Therefore, as discussed below, this provision remains unchanged from 
the NPRM.
    The Department proposed language under paragraph (a) to clarify 
that the content of a complete Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification for submission to the Department must include a completed 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification; all supporting 
documentation and information required at the time of filing under 
Sec. Sec.  655.131 through 655.135; and, unless a specific exemption 
applies, a copy of Form ETA-790/790A, submitted as set forth in Sec.  
655.121(a). The employer's valid FEIN, a valid place of business 
(physical location) in the United States, and a means by which the 
employer may be contacted for employment must be included in the 
employer's submission.
    As discussed in the NPRM, OFLC's FLAG system will assist employers 
and their representatives in preparing complete submissions, as it will 
not permit an employer to submit an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification until the employer



completes all required fields on the forms and uploads and saves to the 
pending application an electronic copy of all documentation and 
information required at the time of filing, including a copy of the job 
order submitted in accordance with Sec.  655.121. For applications 
permitted to be filed by mail pursuant to the procedures discussed 
below, if an employer submits an application that is incomplete or 
contains errors, the Department will issue a NOD identifying any 
deficiencies, and the employer will be required to mail back a revised 
application, thus requiring a timely back-and-forth to complete the 
application.
    The Department proposed language under paragraph (c) to require an 
employer to submit the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification and all required supporting documentation using an 
electronic method(s) designated by the OFLC Administrator. The 
Department also proposed procedures that would permit employers lacking 
adequate access to e-filing to file by mail and would permit employers 
that are unable or limited in their ability to use or access the 
electronic application due to a disability to request an accommodation 
to allow them to access and file the application through other means. 
Under proposed paragraph (c)(2), employers could request an 
accommodation if they are limited in their ability to use, or are 
unable to access, electronic forms or communication due to a 
disability. Unless the employer requested an accommodation due to a 
disability or inadequate access to e-filing, the NPC would return, 
without review, any Application for Temporary Employment Certification 
submitted using a method other than the electronic method(s) designated 
by the OFLC Administrator. Finally, proposed paragraph (d) of this 
section adopted the use of electronic signatures as a valid form of the 
employer's original signature and, if applicable, the original 
signature of the employer's authorized attorney, agent, or surety.
    The Department received many comments expressing strong support for 
the e-filing proposals as a way to improve the quality and accuracy of 
documents the Department receives and reduce processing times and 
paperwork burdens for employers, the Department, and SWAs. Some of 
these commenters noted employers in rural and remote areas may not have 
access to the means to file electronically, and they urged the 
Department to retain in the final rule proposed paragraphs (c)(2) and 
(3) of this section that permit filing by mail, provided the employer 
submits, in writing, a request for reasonable accommodation. In 
response to these comments, the Department agrees and has retained 
these provisions in this final rule.
    Commenters also generally supported the proposal to require 
electronic signatures for all electronically filed applications, though 
several commenters stated they would not support any provision 
requiring the filer to electronically sign documents within the FLAG 
system or prohibiting the filer from using copies of a ``wet'' 
signature. One commenter also expressed concern DHS might not accept 
the electronic signatures required under this final rule.
    This final rule does not require employers to sign documents within 
the FLAG system, and it does not prohibit handwritten ``wet'' 
signatures, which filers electronically copy (scan) and upload into the 
electronic filing system, while retaining the original in the 
employer's document retention file. Under this provision, in addition 
to accepting electronic (scanned) copies of ``wet'' signatures, the 
OFLC Administrator will permit an employer, agent, or attorney to sign 
or certify a document required under this subpart using a valid 
electronic signature method. Consistent with the Government Paperwork 
Elimination Act (GPEA) \88\ and Electronic Signatures in Global and 
National Commerce Act (E-SIGN Act),\89\ the Department is adopting a 
``technology neutral'' policy with respect to the requirements for 
electronic signatures. That is, the employer, agent, or attorney can 
apply a required electronic signature on a document using any available 
technology that can meet the five signing requirements in OMB 
guidelines: (1) the signer must use an acceptable electronic form of 
signature; (2) the electronic form of signature must be executed or 
adopted by the signer with the intent to sign the electronic record; 
(3) the electronic form of signature must be attached to or associated 
with the electronic record being signed; (4) there must be a means to 
identify and authenticate a particular person as the signer; and (5) 
there must be a means to preserve the integrity of the signed 
record.\90\ The OFLC Administrator will accept electronic signatures 
affixed to required documents using any available technology that meets 
the five signing requirements above. DHS will accept electronic 
signatures that have been accepted by the Department. As noted in the 
NPRM, the GPEA specifically states electronic records and their related 
electronic signatures are not to be denied legal effect, validity, or 
enforceability merely because they are in electronic form, and 
encourages Federal Government use of a range of electronic signature 
alternatives. See secs. 1704 and 1707 of the GPEA. In addition, this 
approach is consistent with the Department's conclusion in an earlier 
rulemaking that these standards for accepting electronic signatures are 
reasonable and accepted by Federal agencies.\91\
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    \88\ Public Law 105-277, Title XVII (Secs. 1701-1710), 112 Stat. 
2681-749 (Oct. 21, 1998), 44 U.S.C. 3504.
    \89\ Public Law 106-229, 114 Stat. 464 (June 30, 2000), 15 
U.S.C. 7001 et seq.
    \90\ Federal Chief Information Council, Use of Electronic 
Signatures in Federal Organization Transactions, Version 1.0 (Jan. 
25, 2013).
    \91\ See Interim Final Rule, Labor Certification Process for 
Temporary Employment in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana 
Islands (CW-1 Workers), 84 FR 12380, 12393 (Apr. 1, 2019).
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    Finally, one SWA that supported the e-filing proposal also urged 
the Department to use the e-filing process to collect demographic 
information, including information identifying areas with a high 
concentration of certified workers and a detailed breakdown of the 
number of workers certified by occupation. The commenter stated this 
information is often requested of SWAs and enhanced collection of the 
information would allow SWAs to better assess farm labor trends and 
address regional employment needs. The Department agrees it is 
important to collect H-2A program information and make it available to 
the public. The Department will continue to collect detailed program 
information, including information about work locations and 
certification numbers by occupation, and publish this information on 
the OFLC website and in periodic reports produced by the agency.
b. Paragraph (e), Scope of Applications
    The NPRM proposed amendments to this section to clarify the 
geographic scope of all Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification submitted by employers to the NPC and permit the filing 
of only one Application for Temporary Employment Certification for 
place(s) of employment covering the same geographic scope, period of 
employment, and occupation or comparable work. The Department received 
many comments on the proposed amendments to these sections. After 
carefully considering these comments, the Department has decided to 
largely adopt the regulatory text proposed in the NPRM, with several 
revisions discussed below.



    The Department proposed a new paragraph (e) to clarify that each 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification must be limited to 
places of employment within a single AIE, except where otherwise 
permitted by the subpart (e.g., under Sec.  655.131(a)(2)), a master 
application may include places of employment within two contiguous 
States). This proposal addressed the overall lack of clarity in the 
2010 H-2A Final Rule regarding whether an application could include 
places of employment that span more than one AIE, and ambiguity created 
by its revisions to Sec.  655.132(a), which specifically limited only 
H-2ALC applications to places of employment within a single AIE. As 
stated in the NPRM, limiting the geographic scope of H-2A program job 
opportunities is an essential component of the labor market test 
necessary to determine both the availability of U.S. workers for the 
job opportunity and to ensure that U.S. workers in the local or 
regional area have an opportunity to apply for those job opportunities 
located within normal commuting distance of their permanent residences. 
The Department noted that qualified U.S. workers may be discouraged 
from applying for these job opportunities if required to perform work 
at places of employment both within and outside the normal commuting 
area or where assignment to places of employment outside normal 
commuting distance was possible, despite the availability of closer 
work. Furthermore, the Department stated that monitoring program 
compliance becomes more difficult and the potential for violations 
increases when workers employed under a single Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification are dispersed across more than one 
AIE.
    After considering the comments received, the Department has decided 
to adopt this provision, with two modifications. First, the Department 
split this section into two parts; paragraph (e)(1) addresses the 
geographic scope limitation, while paragraph (e)(2) maintains the 
administrative limitation that an employer may file only one 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification covering the same 
AIE, period of employment, and occupation or comparable work to be 
performed. Second, as discussed below, the Department modified 
paragraph (e)(1) to address job opportunities that involve mobility 
within the workday, after the workday begins.
    Employers, agents, and trade associations generally objected to a 
single AIE limit on fixed-site employer applications. Two commenters 
viewed it as a limit on the size of farm that can be included on an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification, explaining that it 
is not uncommon for a farm to consist of multiple locations (e.g., 
fields or packing facilities) that may be in close proximity or may be 
located more broadly throughout a particular growing region of the 
State. These commenters argued that incidental travel during the 
regular paid workday in employer-provided vehicles, for example to pick 
up or deliver crops, move workers between farm locations, etc., should 
not be a factor in determining the geographic scope of an Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification. In addition, one commenter 
added that there should be no limit to distances on travel ``as the 
first worksite location or the employer's pick-up location are clearly 
defined and transportation between worksites is provided and paid by 
the employer.'' Other commenters explained that restricting an H-2ALC 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification to one AIE may be 
justified for monitoring purposes, as such employers provide labor 
services to various fixed-site growers in different areas according to 
contracts, unlike a fixed-site grower, which has a known fixed location 
where the Department can go to perform its monitoring process. One of 
them objected to what it viewed as a significant change that would 
apply a restriction reasonable for H-2ALCs but not for fixed-site 
growers. The commenter urged the Department, without explanation, to 
retain the single AIE restriction for H-2ALCs only.
    Farmworkers and interested private citizens emphasized the 
importance of local work for farmworkers and generally agreed with the 
Department's concern that job opportunities with worksites outside the 
local commuting area discourage U.S. applicants. These commenters 
provided examples of the difficulties in getting to job opportunities 
that are not local, whether due to challenges in arranging rides to 
work or problems with work-life balance when the commute is too long. A 
workers' rights advocacy organization explained that broad 
determinations of AIE (i.e., ``normal commute'' to the job) are misused 
to refuse housing--and related transportation to worksites--to U.S. 
workers who reside within large AIE.\92\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \92\ The Department also addressed these comments in connection 
with the definition of AIE at Sec.  655.103(b).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department sought to strike an appropriate balance between the 
domestic labor market interests served by a single AIE geographic 
limitation on an Application for Temporary Employment Certification and 
the geographic flexibility growers need within a particular workday for 
certain job opportunities (e.g., truck drivers who deliver crops to 
market), which do not impact workers' commute time or distance. To that 
end, in this final rule, the Department revised proposed paragraph 
(e)(1) to clarify that where a job opportunity involves work at 
multiple places of employment after the workday begins, the Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification may include places of employment 
outside a single AIE. First, this language ensures that any travel 
outside the AIE occurs during the workday and thus is compensable 
time.\93\ Second, the revised language limits such within-workday 
mobility to only those job opportunities where it is necessary to 
perform the duties specified in the Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification. Last, the revised language specifies that 
this expanded geographic area (i.e., places of employment beyond the 
AIE after the workday begins) is permitted only if workers can 
reasonably return to their residence or employer-provided housing 
within the same workday. This parameter ensures that Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification, subject to paragraph (e), include 
places of employment outside a single AIE only where there is no impact 
to the reasonable, normal, and safe daily commute for all of the 
employer's workers who reside within the AIE, whether at their own 
residence or in employer-provided housing.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \93\ As the INA does not define ``hours worked,'' the Department 
has concluded that it is beneficial for workers, employers, agents, 
and WHD to ground enforcement of INA program obligations in its 
decades of experience enforcing the FLSA, which applies to H-2A 
workers. See 2015 H-2B IFR, 80 FR 24042, 24062. The FLSA clarifies 
that, unlike normal home-to-work travel, which need not be 
compensated, time spent by an employee in travel as part of their 
principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during 
the workday, must be counted as hours worked. See 29 CFR 785.38. The 
Department also discusses the relationship between the INA and FLSA 
hours worked principles in its response to public comments on 20 CFR 
655.300.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Accordingly, the additional language in paragraph (e)(1) 
accommodates the types of job opportunities commenters described (e.g., 
truck drivers delivering their employer's crop to market or storage) as 
unreasonably limited by a single AIE limitation, without negative 
impact to workers or the underlying labor market test. This text is 
consistent with the definitions of AIE and place of employment in Sec.  
655.103(b), and with



the comments discussed in the preamble for those definitions.
    Regarding paragraph (e)(2), as explained in the NPRM, this 
provision prevents the Department from receiving and processing 
duplicate applications and reduces duplicative efforts by preventing an 
employer from filing a new application for the same job opportunity 
while an appeal is pending. Paragraph (e)(2) also clarifies that filing 
more than one Application for Temporary Employment Certification is 
necessary only when an employer needs workers to perform full-time job 
opportunities that do not involve the same occupation or comparable 
work, or when workers perform the same full-time work but in a 
different AIE or with different starting and ending dates (e.g., 
staggered start dates while ramping up). With respect to this 
provision, the Department did not receive any comments; accordingly, 
the Department is adopting this portion of the proposed regulatory text 
into clause (e)(2) without further change.
c. Paragraph (f), Staggered Entry of H-2A Workers
    Current regulations require an employer to file separate 
Applications for Temporary Employment Certification for each sequential 
start date of work for each group of job opportunities. The NPRM 
proposed to add a new paragraph (f) at Sec.  655.130 to allow an 
employer with an H-2A certification and an approved H-2A Petition to 
bring H-2A workers into the United States at any time during the 120-
day period that follows the first date of need identified on the 
certified Application for Temporary Employment Certification (i.e., 
staggered entry of H-2A workers for up to 120 days), under certain 
conditions.
    The Department received various comments on the proposed staggered 
entry provision. Many commenters--including trade associations, 
employers, agents, individual commenters, two State government 
agencies, and a State elected official--expressed general support for 
the Department's proposal to allow the staggered entry of H-2A workers 
under a single Application for Temporary Employment Certification. The 
Department also received multiple comments on this proposal from public 
policy organizations, workers' rights advocacy organizations, 
immigration advocacy organizations, trade associations, individual 
commenters, a commenter from academia, two State government agencies, 
and two U.S. Senators. These comments highlighted a need for 
substantial revision of the proposal, both for clarification and to 
better maintain program integrity. After considering these comments, 
the Department has decided not to adopt the proposed staggered entry 
provision in this final rule, for the reasons discussed below.
    Commenters who expressed support for the staggered entry proposal 
generally viewed it as a beneficial simplification of the H-2A program, 
particularly where an employer has labor-need phases within a season or 
growing cycle and currently files multiple, separate Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification for each sequential start date. A 
few commenters explained, for example, that farmers rarely need their 
entire workforce at the beginning of a season, but instead need a 
steadily increasing number of workers as the harvest intensifies. An 
agent asserted that there is no law or regulation that prohibits 
staggered entry and urged the Department to retain this option in the 
final rule to enable employers to account for gradual changes to their 
labor needs through a single H-2A certification. Other commenters 
viewed staggered entry as a practical method of accommodating 
unpredictable factors, such as weather, that may change the exact 
timing of an employer's labor need within the season. A State elected 
official said staggered entry would help producers remain in compliance 
with regulations, while adapting to changing needs and conditions. Some 
commenters stated that the proposal would support efficient use of farm 
resources, reduce costs and paperwork burdens, both at the border and 
on the farm, and create efficiencies for the Department by reducing 
application processing workload. Some commenters remarked that the 
proposal would also benefit U.S. workers, who could apply for job 
opportunities during the extended staggered entry recruitment period.
    Some of the commenters that supported the proposal urged the 
Department to provide additional flexibility for employers within the 
proposed staggered entry provision. For instance, some employers, trade 
associations, and agents urged the Department to add the word 
``anticipated'' before ``latest date on which such workers will enter'' 
in paragraph (f), explaining employers may not know the exact dates 
when filing requests because of the unpredictable influence of weather 
on agricultural employers' labor needs. Another commenter urged the 
Department to extend the staggered entry provision beyond the proposed 
120 days to accommodate potential delays while recruiting workers 
abroad, without suggesting an alternative end date. As the Department 
is not adopting the proposed staggered entry provision in this final 
rule, these suggestions are moot.
    Among commenters opposed to the proposal, the primary concern was 
that permitting staggered entry of H-2A workers at any time up to 120 
days after the advertised date of need would undermine the labor market 
test and negatively impact U.S. worker access to job opportunities. In 
addition to concerns about a reduced recruitment period, these 
commenters expressed concern that U.S. workers would lack clear, 
accurate information about job opportunities, such as start dates and 
when jobs are available. Two U.S. Senators stated the staggered entry 
proposal would introduce instability into domestic and foreign labor 
markets due to the lack of notification around reliable dates of 
employment. Workers' rights advocacy organizations expressed concern 
that U.S. workers would be disadvantaged because staggering would make 
it more difficult for them to learn of and apply for job opportunities. 
One of these commenters explained that having accurate, fixed 
information on dates, locations, and numbers of workers is essential to 
the labor market test, and staggered entry of H-2A workers would 
invalidate labor market determinations because the key information on 
which those determinations are based would change. One of the comment 
submissions consolidated many comments from agricultural workers who 
described the importance of knowing when seasonal work will begin and 
expressed concern over the staggered entry provision. A State agency 
expressed concern the proposal would complicate the recruitment efforts 
of SWAs. The two U.S. Senators and three State government agencies 
recognized the benefits of staggered entry for employers, but did not 
see benefits for workers, other than, perhaps, for those workers who 
could not commit to the full duration of employment but could commit to 
a later start date. The Senators and one of the State agencies asserted 
that extending the recruitment period for employers who chose to 
stagger entry of H-2A workers would not sufficiently remedy the harm 
resulting from the provision.
    Another commenter urged the Department to continue to require a 
separate application if an employer decides to bring in more H-2A 
workers at a later date in a particular harvesting season, asserting 
that this is an important safeguard for U.S. workers, as



it provides U.S. workers a new, distinct opportunity to apply when H-2A 
recruitment activity for each subsequent start date commences, 
particularly in situations where a U.S. worker is not aware of the 
recruitment for the first start date of need, or is not available on 
the employer's first date of need. This commenter questioned how a U.S. 
worker would know whether the employer is still accepting applications 
for the job opportunity. A commenter from academia suggested that, if 
the Department were to adopt a staggered entry provision, then the 
Department should consider imposing additional recruitment requirements 
on employers, such as requiring employers to provide additional notice 
to SWAs that coincides with each phase of staggered entry.
    Some commenters who opposed the staggered entry provision expressed 
concern about the potential for misuse. A workers' rights advocacy 
organization asserted the staggered entry proposal would provide a 
disincentive for employers to hire U.S. workers for the gradual start 
of the season and would make it easier for employers to fire workers 
(both U.S. and H-2A workers) who are not working up to productivity 
requirements and replace them with new H-2A workers throughout the 
staggering period. This commenter also envisioned employers 
establishing early start dates as a method of thwarting the recruitment 
of domestic workers. Another workers' rights advocacy organization 
noted many agricultural workers ``alter their migration patterns 
depending on the terms and conditions of employment'' and expressed 
concern that the staggered entry option would allow employers to 
``manipulate traditional labor and recruitment patterns through massive 
applications covering multiple start dates and areas of employment'' 
and refuse employment to U.S. workers after the recruitment period 
ends. One of the State government commenters expressed concern that 
employers would use the ability to update the terms of employment to 
bring in foreign workers according to evolving need, which it asserted 
would violate MSPA's disclosure requirements and limit the ability of 
U.S. workers to obtain agricultural jobs. Another State government 
commenter expressed concern about the potential for the unlawful 
movement of workers, thinking that staggered entry could increase the 
difficulty in tracking and identifying such movement.
    A few State agencies suggested that aspects of the proposed 
provision could be revised for clarity and efficiency. Specifically, 
one State agency noted the proposal did not set a limit on the number 
of times an employer may notify the NPC of its intent to stagger entry 
of H-2A workers and expressed the concern that an employer could submit 
multiple notices identifying different staffing plans. The commenter 
was concerned that multiple notices would result in increased 
communication between the Department, the SWA, and field staff, and 
would offset any efficiencies potentially gained by the staggered entry 
provision. Another State agency expressed the concern that allowing 
employers to opt into using the staggered entry up to 14 days after the 
first date of need could complicate the process of obtaining an H-2A 
visa, which could lead to unreimbursed travel and subsistence costs 
between the workers' home and the U.S. embassy or consulate.
    In addition, the Department received other comments indicating a 
need for clarification of the proposal to permit staggered entry, if 
the Department were to adopt such a provision in this final rule. For 
instance, a few commenters sought confirmation that employers would not 
be prohibited from filing multiple, separate applications for 
sequential needs, rather than opting to use staggered entry. An 
association mistakenly understood that the proposed language indicated 
associations filing joint master applications would not be permitted to 
stagger the entry of H-2A workers or would have less flexibility than 
other joint employers. Another commenter mistakenly believed that the 
staggered entry option could be used by livestock employers to have 
workers arrive whenever needed; for example, to gather livestock in 
advance of a major storm event, which may occur outside the employer's 
seasonal need period or more than 120 days after its first date of 
need. Two U.S. Senators expressed concern that the staggered entry 
proposal could complicate compliance with the three-fourths guarantee 
that dictates the minimum number of hours an employer must offer to 
workers. Two State government agencies and a State elected official 
thought the proposal would increase SWA burdens and complicate their 
provision of services to workers, without an increase in funding, while 
another State government agency and an individual commenter requested 
guidance on how the staggered entry provision would affect completed 
certified housing inspections. One of the commenters explained that in 
some States, such as Oregon, SWA staff conduct site visits at the 
beginning of each H-2A contract, in part, to provide information to 
arriving workers about its services and workers' rights. The commenter 
believed that if workers were to arrive on multiple start dates, the 
SWA would be required to conduct multiple site visits per contract to 
provide the same services, rather than one per contract. Further, the 
commenter expressed concern that some arriving workers might not 
receive information through a site visit, as the SWA may not be 
informed when new workers arrive during the staggering period.
    Commenters disagreed as to when the employer's obligation to hire 
U.S. workers should end (i.e., how long the recruitment period under 
Sec.  655.135(d)(2) should be) if the employer opted to use staggered 
entry. Some agreed with the Department's proposal to require the 
employer to hire U.S. workers through the employer's identified last 
date for staggering, or 30 days after the first start date, whichever 
is later. Some commenters clarified that they did not support attempts 
to extend the proposed hiring period beyond those proposed parameters. 
One argued that anything beyond 30 days after the last H-2A worker has 
entered the United States is overregulation, asserting there is no 
statutory prohibition against staggered entry. However, other 
commenters generally objected to any reduction in the period during 
which an employer is required to hire U.S. workers. A workers' rights 
advocacy organization objected to not including any recruitment 
obligations past the last date of staggered entry and two commenters 
suggested the employer's hiring obligation should be tied to the last 
entry of staggered workers. They urged the Department, for example, to 
extend an employer's obligation to hire U.S. workers to 30 days after 
the last H-2A foreign worker enters the United States or 30 days after 
each sequential staggered start date. In addition, some commenters 
expressed concern that the combination of proposals in this rulemaking, 
including staggered entry, would undermine the legitimacy of the labor 
market test, including the commenter from academia, who asserted the 
Department failed to evaluate the impact of the provision on the labor 
market test and urged the Department to evaluate the impact.
    The Department also received a few comments addressing issues 
beyond the scope of the staggered entry proposal. A trade association 
and an employer involved in the apple production industry discussed the 
impact of



weather on predicting end dates for employers, and suggested the 
proposal should allow employers the flexibility to retain workers for 
an additional period after the anticipated end date of the work order 
without needing to file an extension. However, the staggered entry 
proposal involved only start date variability. End date flexibility, as 
the commenter noted, is already addressed through the extension 
provision at Sec.  655.170. In addition, a workers' rights advocacy 
organization suggested the Department should revise the regulations to 
require a minimum training period in which workers may not be fired for 
failing to comply with productivity standards, so that employers would 
not terminate workers who do not initially meet productivity 
requirements and replace them with staggered workers. However, this 
suggestion is beyond the scope of this rulemaking.
    The Department appreciates the many comments it received on the 
proposed staggered entry provision. The Department recognizes that in 
administering the H-2A program, it must strike an appropriate balance 
between the need to provide U.S. workers notice of available 
agricultural job opportunities, including clarity regarding the terms 
and conditions offered, and the opportunity to apply for those job 
opportunities, and, where insufficient U.S. workers are available to 
satisfy an employer's temporary agricultural labor need, the need to 
provide employers access to a pool of foreign labor through effective 
administration of the H-2A program. The Department is sensitive to 
comments indicating that the staggered entry provision proposed in the 
NPRM did not successfully strike this balance and, if adopted without 
revision, would have weakened the integrity of the labor market test 
and effective compliance monitoring and enforcement of program 
obligations, which was not the Department's intent. The Department 
recognizes that concerns expressed by commenters would require 
substantial revisions to address the significant limitations of the 
staggered entry proposal set forth in the NPRM: to address confusing 
aspects of the proposal; to ensure effective recruitment of U.S. 
workers for job opportunities, particularly where multiple or mid-
season start dates are available; and to include parameters that 
balance flexibility, efficiency, and notice to prospective applicants, 
such as a single pre-certification opportunity to submit notice of 
intent to stagger entry. The Department agrees that additional guidance 
would be necessary to clarify how the provision would effectively 
operate in practice and to clarify the standards for enforcing program 
compliance.
    The Department appreciates the concerns of workers' rights and 
immigration advocacy organizations, U.S. Senators, agricultural 
workers, and others that the proposed provision could make it more 
difficult for U.S. workers to learn of available H-2A job 
opportunities. For example, the Department is sensitive to commenters' 
concerns regarding the information provided to U.S. workers during the 
recruitment period and agrees that substantial revisions to the 
proposed provision would be required to ensure that sufficient 
information is collected and made available to prospective U.S. worker 
applicants in the job order and other recruitment. The provision of 
such information is critical so that U.S. workers may, for example, 
apply for their preferred start date within the employer's staggered 
entry plan. Additional disclosure requirements could better apprise 
U.S. workers of available job opportunities and start date options, 
which would, in turn, address concerns about agricultural workers' 
ability to plan their migration routes.
    The Department also is sensitive to the concerns of commenters, 
including State agencies, that applications with multiple start dates 
of need may raise administrative challenges that merit further 
consideration and may increase, rather than reduce, administrative 
burdens and complicate SWA recruitment efforts. For example, 
applications with multiple start dates of need may require additional 
communication between the CO and SWA related to modifications to job 
orders that are active in the SWA clearance system and the Department's 
electronic job registry, as necessary to ensure prospective applicants 
receive clear information about available start dates. Additional 
parameters on the number and timing of such modifications could 
minimize the administrative impact of such modifications, while 
simultaneously supporting clearer information disclosure to prospective 
applicants.
    Although the Department believes that a staggered entry provision 
may provide beneficial employer flexibilities and program 
administration efficiencies, the commenters correctly identified many 
areas in which the proposal would need to be substantially changed in 
order to properly balance employer and U.S. worker interests. At this 
time, the Department declines to adopt the proposed staggered entry 
provision, even with substantial revisions considered in the January 
2021 draft final rule, as it may present significant drawbacks and 
unintended consequences.\94\ If the Department determines it is 
appropriate to propose a similar provision in the future that better 
strikes a balance between the need to provide U.S. workers notice of 
available agricultural job opportunities--including clarity regarding 
the terms and conditions offered, and the opportunity to apply for 
those job opportunities--and the need to provide employers access to a 
pool of foreign labor through effective administration of the H-2A 
program, it will do so via the notice and comment rulemaking process, 
providing the public an opportunity to comment on any such proposal. 
Accordingly, under this final rule, an employer who anticipates a need 
for different groups of workers to begin work on sequential start dates 
must continue to file separate Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification, each reflecting a distinct start date within the 
employer's temporary or seasonal need for labor, and engage in 
recruitment tied to each of those start dates, as provided in the 2010 
H-2A Final Rule.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \94\ In the January 2021 draft final rule, the Department 
considered adopting the proposal with significant revisions to 
address the many commenter concerns, such as administrative and 
enforcement challenges, including revisions clarifying limits on the 
number of notifications an employer might submit to the CO regarding 
its staggered entry plan, revising the timeframe in which an 
employer could submit its single notification of intent to stagger 
entry, expanding the collection of information regarding the 
employer's staggered entry plan and corresponding start dates 
offered to prospective applicants, and bolstering disclosure of 
information to farmworkers regarding start date options. However, 
even with these changes, the Department believes the January 2021 
draft final rule did not sufficiently address confusing aspects of 
the proposal; ensure effective recruitment of U.S. workers for job 
opportunities, particularly where multiple or mid-season start dates 
are available; and balance flexibility, efficiency, and notice to 
prospective applicants, such as a single pre-certification 
opportunity to submit notice of intent to stagger entry.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

d. Paragraph (f), Information Dissemination
    The Department proposed minor amendments to newly designated 
paragraph (f) (formerly paragraph (e)) in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule and 
proposed at paragraph (g) in the NPRM) to clarify that OFLC may provide 
information received in the course of processing Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification, or in the course of conducting 
program integrity measures, not only to the WHD, but to any other 
Federal agency with authority



to enforce compliance with program requirements and combat fraud and 
abuse. The Department received one comment on this provision, which did 
not necessitate substantive changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, 
this provision remains unchanged from the NPRM.
    An agent objected to OFLC sharing information with ``any other 
Federal agency'' if the information sharing could lead to adverse 
action, as it could have a ``significant chilling effect on workers'' 
and could exceed the Department's statutory authority. The Department 
appreciates these concerns; however the administration of the H-2A visa 
program involves multiple agencies. Information sharing between the 
agencies is used only as necessary to ensure the integrity of the 
program. As explained in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, in this regard, the 
Department affirmatively shares information with DHS and other 
agencies, within defined limits, when necessary for those agencies to 
take action within their jurisdiction. For example, the Department may 
refer certain discrimination complaints to DOJ, under Sec.  655.185, or 
refer information related to debarred employers or to employers' 
fraudulent or willful misrepresentations to DHS, under Sec. Sec.  
655.182 and 655.184. Further, this provision aligns with current 
language in WHD regulations at 29 CFR 501.2, which provides 
``[i]nformation received in the course of processing applications, 
program integrity measures, or enforcement actions may be shared 
between OFLC and WHD or, where applicable to employer enforcement under 
the H-2A program, other agencies as appropriate, including the 
Department of State (DOS) and DHS.'' Therefore, under Sec.  655.130(g) 
in this final rule, the Department will share information when it is 
necessary and appropriate to do so. In all cases, the Department shares 
only the specific information the agency requires and ensures that all 
information sharing complies with the Privacy Act of 1974, Public Law 
93-579, 88 Stat. 1896 (5 U.S.C. 552a et seq.) (Dec. 31, 1974).
2. Section 655.131, Agricultural Association and Joint Employer Filing 
Requirements
    The NPRM proposed amendments to this section to: (1) retain current 
requirements governing the submission of Applications for Temporary 
Employment Certification by an agricultural association on behalf of 
its employer-members; and (2) codify current standards and procedures 
governing the submission of Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification by two or more individual employers seeking to jointly 
employ workers to perform agricultural labor or services. The 
Department received many comments on the proposed amendments to this 
section. After carefully considering these comments, the Department has 
decided to largely adopt the regulatory text proposed in the NPRM, with 
several revisions, as discussed below.
a. Paragraph (a), Agricultural Association Filing Requirements
    The Department proposed minor revisions to paragraph (a) to clarify 
the application filing procedures for agricultural associations and to 
conform with other proposed changes in the NPRM, such as the definition 
of master application in Sec.  655.103 and the modernization provisions 
that revise the procedures for issuance of temporary agricultural labor 
certifications in Sec.  655.162. The Department also proposed to 
reorganize the procedural provisions applicable to agricultural 
associations that file Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification so that paragraph (a)(1) addresses the requirement for an 
agricultural association to identify the nature of its role in each 
application it files and retain documentation of its role. Paragraph 
(a)(2) addresses master application filings; paragraph (a)(3) addresses 
employer signatures on applications that an agricultural association 
files; and paragraph (a)(4) addresses certification issuance. As 
discussed below, the Department is adopting paragraph (a) without 
change from the NPRM.
    An association expressed concern about the interaction of the 
proposed staggered entry provision at Sec.  655.130(f) and master 
application filing procedures at Sec.  655.131(a)(2), thinking that 
agricultural associations that file master applications could not 
stagger entry of H-2A workers or would have less flexibility than other 
joint employers. As the Department has decided not to adopt the 
proposed staggered entry provision, for the reasons discussed in the 
preamble to Sec.  655.130(f), the concern is moot.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization supported the Department's 
proposal to add explicit language in paragraph (a)(3) regarding 
signature requirements in applications filed by agricultural 
associations, while a State agency expressed support for electronic 
signatures, including those required under this section. Other 
commenters raised liability concerns related to master applications and 
joint employment, rather than the procedural provisions in paragraph 
(a); these comments are discussed in relation to the definitions at 
Sec.  655.103(b).
    Accordingly, this final rule adopts paragraph (a) without change 
and, as such, continues to permit an agricultural association to file 
an application as a sole employer, joint employer, or agent, as 
contemplated in the INA. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(c)(3)(B)(iv) and (d).
b. Paragraph (b), Joint Employer Filing Requirements
    The Department proposed a new paragraph (b) to codify its 
longstanding practice of permitting two or more individual employers to 
file a single Application for Temporary Employment Certification as 
joint employers. These filing requirements would apply when two or more 
individual employers operating in the same AIE have a shared need for 
workers to perform the same agricultural labor or services during the 
same period of employment, but each employer cannot guarantee full-time 
employment for the workers during each workweek. This provision is 
intended to allow smaller employers that do not have full-time work for 
an H-2A worker and lack access to an employer association to use the H-
2A program. In these situations, small employers have established an 
arrangement to share or interchange the services of the workers to 
provide full-time employment during each workweek and guarantee all the 
terms and conditions of employment under the job order or work 
contract.
    The application filing procedures for two or more employers under 
proposed Sec.  655.131(b) are different from the procedures for a 
master application filed by an agricultural association as a joint 
employer in several ways. First, unlike the master application 
provision, the employers filing a single Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification under proposed paragraph (b) would not be 
joint employers with an agricultural association of which they may be 
employer-members. Thus, if an agricultural association assists one or 
more of its employer-members in filing an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification under proposed paragraph (b), the agricultural 
association would be filing as an agent for its employer-members. 
Second, all employers filing an Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification under proposed paragraph (b) must have the same first 
date of need and require the agricultural labor or services of the 
workers requested during the same period of employment in order to 
offer



and provide full-time employment during each workweek. In contrast, in 
a master application filed by an agricultural association, each 
employer-member would offer and provide full-time employment to a 
distinct number of workers during a period of employment that may have 
first dates of need differing by up to 14 calendar days. Unlike a 
master application where the places of employment for the employer-
members could cover multiple AIEs within no more than two contiguous 
States, the employers filing a single application as joint employers 
under proposed paragraph (b) would have to identify places of 
employment within a single AIE. Finally, under proposed paragraph (b) 
all joint employers would be jointly and severally liable for 
violations by any joint employer for the entire period of need. As 
previously explained, and codified in Sec.  655.103, while an 
agricultural association that files a master application is always an 
employer, a grower that is an employer-member of the agricultural 
association that filed a master application is only in joint employment 
with the agricultural association when it is employing the pertinent H-
2A workers.
    Under proposed paragraph (b)(1)(i), any one of the employers could 
file the Application for Temporary Employment Certification with the 
NPC, so long as the names, addresses, and the crops and agricultural 
labor or services to be performed are identified for each employer 
seeking to jointly employ the workers. Consistent with longstanding 
practice, any applications filed by two or more employers would 
continue to be limited to places of employment within a single AIE 
covering the same occupation or comparable work during the same period 
of employment for all joint employers, as required by Sec.  655.130(e). 
As the NPRM noted, the proposal would typically allow neighboring 
farmers with similar needs to use the program, though they do not, by 
themselves, have a need for a full-time worker under Sec.  655.135(f).
    Per proposed paragraph (b)(1)(ii), each joint employer would be 
required to employ each H-2A worker the equivalent of at least 1 
workday (i.e., a 7-hour day) each workweek. This proposed requirement 
aimed to fulfill the purpose of the filing model, which is to allow 
smaller employers in the same area and in need of part-time workers 
performing the same work under the job order to join together on a 
single application, making the H-2A program accessible to these 
employers. The proposed requirement also provided an additional 
limiting principle intended to ensure that individual employers with 
full-time needs would use the established application process for 
individual employers, that association members would use the statutory 
process provided for associations, and that joint applications would be 
restricted to small employers with a simultaneous need for workers that 
cannot support the full-time employment of an H-2A worker. In this way, 
the Department could carry out the statutory requirements applicable to 
individual employers and to associations. The Department invited 
comments on the 1-workday requirement in the NPRM, and also sought 
comments on how to best effectuate the purposes of joint employer 
applications.
    The NPRM additionally noted that each employer seeking to employ 
the workers jointly under the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification would have to comply with all the assurances, guarantees, 
and other requirements contained in this subpart and in part 653, 
subpart F. Therefore, proposed Sec.  655.131(b)(1)(iii) would require 
each joint employer to sign and date the Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification. By signing the application, each joint 
employer would attest to the conditions of employment required of an 
employer participating in the H-2A program and would assume full 
responsibility for the accuracy of the representations made in the 
application and job order, and for all of the assurances, guarantees, 
and requirements of an employer in the H-2A program. The Department 
noted in the NPRM that, in the event of a violation, all of the 
employers named in the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification are liable for the violation and may be held jointly or 
individually responsible for remedying the violation(s) and for 
attendant penalties.
    Finally, the NPRM observed that where the CO grants temporary 
agricultural labor certification to joint employers, proposed Sec.  
655.131(b)(2) would provide that the joint employer that filed the 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification would receive the 
Final Determination correspondence on behalf of the other joint 
employers in accordance with the procedures proposed in Sec.  655.162. 
As discussed below, the Department is adopting paragraph (b) from the 
NPRM with some changes.
    The Department received many comments related to its proposal to 
include Sec.  655.131(b) in its implementing regulations. The employer 
comments related to Sec.  655.131(b) all supported the proposal to 
permit joint employer applications. However, those employers that 
commented on Sec.  655.131(b) uniformly criticized the provision's 
requirement that all joint employers employ the pertinent H-2A workers 
at least 1 day per workweek. At least four commenters noted that the 
proposal would unduly complicate joint employer arrangements in which 
sponsored H-2A workers move from full-time employment at one 
applicant's farm to full-time employment at another applicant's farm 
based on growing conditions at the respective farms. Various commenters 
noted that the proposal would preclude joint applications by growers 
that need distinct numbers of H-2A workers by compelling a grower that 
has a lesser need to employ all the workers needed by a grower with a 
greater need. Some commenters asserted that the requirement would 
unduly reduce the ``flexibility'' of farms that wish to use the joint 
employer application process. Still other commenters asserted that the 
proposal is unduly restrictive, unworkable, or serves no discernible 
policy objective.
    Four commenters each offered what would amount to a ``less 
stringent restriction'' than the 1-day-per-week requirement. Three of 
the commenters specifically suggested the Department might use other 
``metrics[,] includ[ing] percentage of hours or days per contract,'' in 
lieu of the 1-day-per-week requirement. Another commenter similarly 
suggested that the Department might ``establish a `minimum' amount of 
time'' that each joint employer must employ the pertinent H-2A workers 
during the entire period of employment.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization supported holding all 
entities that file a joint employer application under Sec.  655.131(b) 
accountable for any violation committed by one. It suggested that the 
Department provide greater clarity that all named employers are 
accountable as joint employers for any violations committed by one 
during the period of employment listed on the job order, ``not just the 
dates in which H-2A workers completed work owned or operated by a 
particular employer.'' As explained above, the liability of named joint 
employers is not dependent on the dates on which H-2A workers complete 
work for a particular named joint employer.
    The Department declines to adopt some commenters' recommendation to 
place no limits on the number of hours each joint employer filing an 
application under Sec.  655.131(b) may employ H-2A workers sponsored 
under such an application. The purpose of the



Department's proposal in Sec.  655.131(b), which it is electing to 
retain in this final rule, is to permit small growers that have a need 
for H-2A workers but cannot guarantee full-time employment on their own 
to join together to meet the full-time-job requirement for hiring H-2A 
workers. Placing no limits on the number of hours each joint employer 
filing an application under Sec.  655.131(b) may employ H-2A workers 
sponsored under such an application would undercut this purpose by 
permitting employers that, individually, can guarantee full-time 
employment to use Sec.  655.131(b).
    Some commenters specifically requested that the Department modify 
Sec.  655.131(b) to expressly allow use of the provision by joint 
employers that would provide sequential full-time employment to H-2A 
workers. As the Department noted in the NPRM, individual employers that 
can provide full-time employment to H-2A workers can file an individual 
application under Sec.  655.130 for the individual employer's period of 
need. In such a case, a joint employment relationship is unnecessary 
because the employer may file an application for the period of time for 
which full-time employment is offered. The Department accordingly has 
concluded that it is appropriate to limit applications under Sec.  
655.131(b) to those instances in which no co-applicant can provide 
full-time employment to H-2A workers. Therefore, the Department 
declines to adopt the commenters' recommendation to place no limits on 
the number of hours each joint employer filing an application under 
Sec.  655.131(b) may employ H-2A workers sponsored under such an 
application.
    While the Department has decided to place numerical limits on the 
number of hours H-2A workers under a Sec.  655.131(b) application can 
work for a joint employer, it has closely considered many commenters' 
suggestion that the proposed 1 day per workweek requirement unduly 
restricts employer flexibility. It has accordingly sought to determine 
if there is another less rigid metric that would provide employers 
greater flexibility and at the same time preserve Sec.  655.131(b)'s 
purpose to accommodate small growers that cannot alone guarantee full-
time employment but wish to use the program. With that dual purpose in 
mind, the Department has modified Sec.  655.131(b), as proposed in the 
NPRM, to eliminate the requirement that all H-2A workers must work for 
each employer for at least 7 hours in each workweek. This final rule 
allows employers to schedule H-2A workers at their discretion, so long 
as no single joint employer obtains more than a total of 34 hours of 
work in any workweek from all of the H-2A employees it employs. This 
provision provides maximum flexibility to joint employers in assigning 
H-2A employees under the rule, while helping to ensure that only 
employers that cannot provide full-time employment, defined in Sec.  
655.135(f) as 35 hours a week, will file under this provision. By 
limiting the total number of hours of employment of all H-2A workers to 
no more than 34 hours of work per week for each joint employer, the 
rule limits the use of this provision to those employers that have a 
need for part-time work. Employers with a need for 35 hours of work a 
week or more will be able to guarantee full-time work and will be able 
to file under the standard process. Those employers that are able to 
guarantee full-time work will have no need to use this provision, 
which, as noted above, is designed for applicants that are unable to 
provide full-time work, and without this provision would be ineligible 
for the H-2A program.
    Finally, the Department notes that the January 2021 draft final 
rule would have adopted Sec.  655.131(b) as proposed in the NPRM, with 
the addition of a new Sec.  655.131(b)(1)(ii) and (iii), which would 
have provided that no employer would employ any H-2A worker for fewer 
than 7 hours in a pay period and more than 28 hours in any workweek. 
The January 2021 draft final rule also would have adopted a new Sec.  
655.131(b)(1)(iv), which would have provided that the employer, 
together with its co-applicants, would employ each H-2A worker for at 
least 70 hours in each 2-week pay period. However, those provisions 
would have added unnecessary restrictions on the scheduling of H-2A 
workers while failing to limit joint employment under this provision to 
employers with a part-time need. Accordingly, and for the reasons 
discussed above, those provisions were not adopted in this final rule.
3. Section 655.132, H-2A Labor Contractor Filing Requirements; and 29 
CFR 501.9, Enforcement of Surety Bond
    The NPRM proposed amendments to these sections to clarify and 
enhance requirements governing the submission of Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification by employers operating as H-2ALCs, 
including substantive revisions to the standards by which these 
employers must demonstrate proof of their ability to discharge their 
financial obligations in the form of a surety bond. The Department 
received many comments on the proposed amendments to this section. 
After carefully considering these comments, the Department has decided 
to largely adopt the regulatory text proposed in the NPRM, with several 
revisions, as discussed below.
    Because the Department added a provision at Sec.  655.130(e) to 
address the geographic scope of Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification, generally, language addressing that topic was no longer 
necessary in Sec.  655.132 and retaining it in this section could 
create confusion. An H-2ALC application and job order continue to be 
limited to places of employment within a single AIE, except as 
otherwise permitted by this subpart (e.g., Sec.  655.215(b)(1)). 
However, by moving the language to Sec.  655.130(e), the Department's 
proposal clarified that this same limitation applies to all 
applications and job orders, absent an explicit exception in this 
subpart. As a result, the Department proposed to eliminate paragraph 
(a) and redesignate the contents of paragraph (b) of the 2010 H-2A 
Final Rule, which list the enhanced documentation requirements for H-
2ALCs, as paragraphs (a) through (e).
    As explained in the NPRM, the Department has determined the 
enhanced documentation requirements for H-2ALCs continue to be 
necessary in order to protect the safety and security of workers and 
ensure basic program requirements are met, particularly given the 
increased use of the H-2A program by H-2ALCs and the relatively complex 
and transient nature of their business operations.\95\ In proposed 
paragraph (e)(1), the Department maintained the current rule's 
requirement that an H-2ALC provide proof that any housing used by 
workers and owned, operated, or secured by the fixed-site agricultural 
business complies with the applicable standards as set forth in Sec.  
655.122(d) and is certified by the SWA. In proposed paragraph (e)(2), 
the Department proposed to replace the term ``the worksite'' with ``all 
place(s) of employment'' to clarify that transportation provided by the 
fixed-site agricultural business between the workers' living quarters 
and all



locations where work is performed must comply with the requirements of 
this section. Additionally, the Department corrected the reference for 
workers' compensation coverage of transportation from Sec.  655.125(h) 
to Sec.  655.122(h).
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    \95\ Based on an analysis of Applications for Temporary 
Employment Certification processed for FY 2014 and 2017, the number 
of applications filed by H-2ALCs more than doubled from 660 (FY 
2014) to 1,410 (FY 2017), and the number of worker positions 
certified for H-2ALCs nearly tripled from approximately 24,900 (FY 
2014) to 72,400 (FY 2017). Between FY 2014 and 2017, the average 
annual increase in H-2ALC applications requesting temporary labor 
certification was 29 percent, compared to only 18 percent for 
agricultural associations and 11 percent for individual farms and 
ranches.
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    The Department has adopted paragraphs (e)(1) and (2) as proposed, 
with minor changes to paragraph (e)(2) for clarification. As discussed 
above in the preamble to Sec.  655.122(h), the Department has made a 
minor revision to Sec.  655.132(e)(2) to clarify that 29 CFR 500.104 
and 500.105 do not both apply simultaneously to all vehicles. Instead, 
29 CFR 500.104 and 500.105 apply alternatively depending upon the type 
of vehicle used, the distance of the trip, and whether the vehicle is 
being used for a day-haul operation. Accordingly, under this paragraph, 
H-2ALCs will continue to include in or with their Applications for 
Temporary Employment Certification, at the time of filing, the 
information and documentation listed in redesignated paragraphs (a) 
through (e) to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements.
    Many commenters addressed the presence of H-2ALCs in the H-2A 
program, rather than the Department's proposed amendments to Sec.  
655.132. Immigration, public policy, and workers' rights advocacy 
organizations, trade associations, and an international recruiter 
raised concerns about H-2ALCs' lack of transparency and about farmers 
using H-2ALCs as a shield to escape responsibility and maintain lower 
wages. A workers' rights advocacy organization and numerous farmworkers 
asserted H-2ALCs offer lower wages, provide reduced or nonexistent 
benefits, more frequently present challenging or unsafe working 
conditions, make travel difficult, and provide less certainty regarding 
work start dates. One farm owner pointed out there is a critical need 
for H-2ALCs, especially when a crop's harvest or hauling season is very 
short. These comments provide context for suggestions in this section 
and others. In addition, the Department will continue to examine the 
role of H-2ALCs in the H-2A program to determine whether further 
regulation of H-2ALCs beyond these filing requirements and surety bond 
requirement (discussed below) is necessary to protect H-2A and U.S. 
farmworkers.
    One commenter mistakenly thought the Department proposed to remove 
paragraph (a) of the 2010 H-2A Final Rule from this subpart; the 
commenter expressed concern H-2ALCs would no longer be limited to 
places of employment within one AIE on a single Application for 
Temporary Labor Certification, in most cases. The Department repeats 
that this requirement was moved to Sec.  655.130(e), not removed from 
the subpart entirely.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization expressed support for the 
revisions to paragraph (e)(2), and it agreed that the changes proposed 
by the Department are helpful and clarify regulatory requirements.
    Although the Department did not propose changes to any of the H-
2ALC documentation requirements listed in this section except the 
surety bond requirement, which is addressed below, a few commenters 
suggested revisions to the MSPA FLC registration paragraph and process, 
content requirements for an H-2ALC's work contracts with fixed-site 
growers, and other additional documentation requirements. An agent 
requested the Department incorporate the enumerated exceptions to MSPA 
registration listed at 29 CFR 500.0 through 500.271 in paragraph (b) of 
this section, a revision the commenter asserted would clarify who 
qualifies for an exception under MSPA and would ensure proper 
application of the MSPA registration requirement. Also related to MSPA 
and FLC registration, an employer recommended that the Department 
create an online system for employers. The Department respectfully 
declines. Repetition of MSPA registration exceptions is not warranted 
and could create confusion, as these exceptions, and any clarification 
of these exceptions, fall outside this subpart. Similarly, creation of 
a MSPA registration online system is outside the scope of this 
rulemaking.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization suggested the Department 
require fixed-site growers to acknowledge their understanding of 
program and legal requirements when signing work contracts with an H-
2ALC, while a trade association suggested the Department require H-
2ALCs to provide a signed joint liability agreement for every farm to 
which they will supply labor. The Department appreciates these 
suggestions but declines to add these documentation requirements at 
Sec.  655.132. Except when an agricultural association signs on behalf 
of its employer-members that are named in a master Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification, each employer of the workers sought 
must review and sign declarations attesting to the accuracy of the job 
information and compliance with applicable laws and regulations. To the 
extent these suggestions raise issues of joint employment and joint 
liability, those issues are addressed in the Department's discussion of 
proposed revisions to the definition of joint employment at Sec.  
655.103. Finally, such additional documentation requirements were not 
presented for public notice and comment and, therefore, are beyond the 
scope of this rulemaking.
    However, with regard to the information H-2ALCs provide on the Form 
ETA-790A to identify their clients (i.e., the growers who contract with 
the H-2ALC to provide labor or services for their agricultural 
operations), the Department clarifies that an H-2ALC must identify each 
fixed-site agricultural business to which it will provide labor or 
services, as provided in Sec.  655.132(a) of this final rule and 
collected in an addendum to the Form ETA-790A, by providing the 
agricultural business's full legal name and full trade names or ``Doing 
Business As'' names (DBAs) (if applicable). Full disclosure of legal 
and trade names or DBAs is consistent with the Department's 
requirements for employer and agricultural association names on the 
Form ETA-790A. In addition, full disclosure of business names both 
apprises prospective applicants of the work to be performed and 
supports the Department's efforts to protect workers.
    The workers' rights advocacy organization also suggested the 
Department require additional recruitment-related documentation of H-
2ALCs, such as evidence the H-2ALC recruited all U.S. workers, FLCs, 
and crew leaders employed directly by the fixed-site grower in the 
prior year. In response to the comment, the Department addressed this 
issue in the discussion of an employer's contact with former U.S. 
workers under Sec.  655.153, and in relation to the definition of joint 
employment at Sec.  655.103.
    In proposed paragraph (c), the Department retained the requirement 
that an H-2ALC submit with its Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification proof of its ability to discharge its financial 
obligations in the form of a surety bond. This bonding requirement, 
which became effective in 2009, was created because the Department's 
experience indicated that H-2ALCs can be transient and 
undercapitalized, thus making it difficult to recover the wages and 
benefits owed to their workers when violations are found.\96\ By 
ensuring that



these employers can meet their payroll and other program obligations, 
the Department is better able to prevent program abuse and limit any 
adverse effect on U.S. workers. See 20 CFR 655.132(b)(3); 29 CFR 501.9. 
Following a final finding of violation, the WHD Administrator may make 
a claim to the surety for payment of wages and benefits owed to H-2A 
workers, workers in corresponding employment, and U.S. workers 
improperly rejected from employment, laid off, or displaced, up to the 
face amount of the bond. 29 CFR 501.9(b).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \96\ See 2008 H-2A Final Rule, 73 FR 77110, 77163; see also 2010 
H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6941 (``The Department's enforcement 
experience has found that agricultural labor contractors are more 
often in violation of applicable labor standards than fixed-site 
employers. They are also less likely to meet their obligations to 
their workers than fixed-site employers.'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Based on its experience implementing the bonding requirement and 
enforcement experience with H-2ALCs, the Department proposed revisions 
intended to clarify and streamline the existing requirements and 
strengthen the Department's ability to collect on such bonds. To 
address the large proportion of the surety bonds submitted by H-2ALCs 
that do not meet the requirements of 29 CFR 501.9, the Department 
proposed moving the substantive requirements governing the content of 
H-2ALC surety bonds to 20 CFR 655.132(c) so that these requirements can 
be found in the same section as other requirements for the Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification. The Department also proposed to 
expand the capabilities of the online application system (historically 
the iCERT Visa Portal System (iCERT) and now the FLAG system) to permit 
electronic execution and delivery of surety bonds both as a means to 
address the issue of noncompliant bonds and to streamline its review of 
bond submissions. Under this proposal, electronic surety bonds will 
eventually be required for all H-2ALCs subject to the Department's 
mandatory e-filing requirement. However, until such time as the 
Department's proposed process for accepting electronic surety bonds is 
operational, the Department will accept the submission of an electronic 
(i.e., scanned) copy of the surety bond with the application, provided 
that the original bond is received within 30 days of the date that the 
temporary agricultural labor certification is issued. To ensure that 
the original bond is received during this time period, the Department 
proposed to revise Sec.  655.182 to specify that failure to timely 
submit a compliant, original surety bond constitutes a substantial 
violation, providing grounds for debarment or revocation of the 
temporary agricultural labor certification.
    To further improve compliance with the bonding requirement and 
streamline its review, the Department proposed to adopt a bond form 
with standardized language. Currently, the bonds received by the 
Department vary in wording and form, making it difficult to ensure that 
the bonds are sufficient and resulting in confusion regarding the legal 
requirements. The language used in the Department's proposed bond form, 
ETA-9142A--Appendix B, which was included in the Paperwork Reduction 
Act (PRA) package of the NPRM, largely incorporated the existing bond 
requirements with certain clarifications for the regulated community 
and minor changes. For example, the proposed bond language clarified 
that the wages and benefits owed to workers may include the assessment 
of interest. Similarly, the proposal clarified the time period during 
which liability on the bond accrues (``liability period''), as 
distinguished from the time period in which the Department may seek 
payment from the surety under the bond (``claims period''). The 
Department proposed changing the bond requirement to cover not only 
liability incurred during the period of the temporary agricultural 
labor certification, but also liability incurred during any extension 
of the temporary agricultural labor certification, thus eliminating the 
need for H-2ALCs to amend the applicable bond or seek an additional 
bond (i.e., automatically extending the liability period to reflect any 
extension of the temporary agricultural labor certification). 
Additionally, the Department proposed extending and simplifying the 
claims period from ``no less than 2 years'' to 3 years. Because this 
standardized language provides more specificity as to the length of the 
claims period, the Department proposed omitting language permitting the 
cancellation or termination of the claims period with 45 days' written 
notice. The Department explained that some sureties have mistakenly 
interpreted this language as permitting the early termination of bonds 
during the period in which liability accrues.
    Additionally, the Department proposed adjustments to the required 
bond amounts because current bond amounts, which range from $5,000 to 
$75,000 depending on the number of H-2A workers to be employed under 
the applicable temporary agricultural labor certification, often are 
insufficient to cover the wages and benefits owed by labor contractors. 
The Department proposed two distinct changes to the required bond 
amount computation.
    First, it proposed adjusting the required bond amounts annually to 
account for wage growth as measured by increases in the AEWR. 
Specifically, the Department proposed adjusting the existing required 
bond amounts proportionally on an annual basis to the degree that a 
nationwide average AEWR exceeds $9.25, the wage rate used to establish 
new bond amounts in the Department's 2009-2010 rulemaking. 2009 H-2A 
NPRM, 74 FR 45906, 45925; 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6941. The 
``average AEWR'' used in this adjustment would be calculated and 
published when the Department calculates and publishes the AEWR by 
State in accordance with Sec.  655.120(b).
    Second, in response to dramatic increases in the crew sizes 
certified in the last decade, the Department proposed increasing the 
required bond amounts for temporary agricultural labor certifications 
covering a significant number of H-2A workers. Currently, the highest 
bond amount, $75,000, applies to temporary agricultural labor 
certifications covering 100 or more H-2A workers. Under the proposal, 
the bond amount applicable to temporary agricultural labor 
certifications covering 100 or more H-2A workers (determined by 
adjusting $75,000 to account for wage growth, as discussed above) is 
used as a starting point and is increased for each additional set of 50 
H-2A workers. The interval by which the bond amount increases is based 
on an approximation of wages earned by 50 workers over a 2-week period, 
also updated annually to reflect increases in the AEWR. The NPRM 
included examples demonstrating this calculation. 84 FR 36168, 36204-
36205.\97\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \97\ In addition, the Department noted that under its proposal 
to expand the definition of agriculture in Sec.  655.103 to include 
reforestation and pine straw activities, employers in these 
industries may have qualified as H-2ALCs and been required to comply 
with the surety bond requirements. Because the Department declines 
to adopt this proposal, as discussed supra, comments addressing the 
application of the bonding requirement to the reforestation and pine 
straw industries are not discussed herein.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department received only one comment addressing its proposal to 
move the substantive requirements governing the content of H-2ALC 
surety bonds to Sec.  655.132(c). A coalition of workers' rights 
advocacy organizations supported this proposal characterizing it as ``a 
helpful, clarifying change.'' Likewise, those who commented on the 
Department's proposal to permit the electronic execution and delivery 
of surety bonds supported this proposal.



The Department hereby adopts these two proposals without modification. 
As the Department is in the process of developing a functional 
capability for accepting electronic surety bonds, it reminds the 
regulated community that until such time as the OFLC Administrator 
directs the use of electronic surety bonds, employers may, pursuant to 
Sec.  655.132(c)(3)(ii), submit an electronic (i.e., scanned) copy of 
the surety bond with the application, provided that the original bond 
is received within 30 days of the date that the temporary agricultural 
labor certification is issued. Failure to timely submit a compliant, 
original surety bond has been added to Sec.  655.182(d) and will 
constitute a violation that may provide grounds for debarment or 
revocation of the temporary agricultural labor certification. Further, 
the Department clarifies that it will generally consider such a failure 
as demonstrating a lack of good faith under Sec.  655.182(e)(4), making 
such a violation, by itself, a substantial violation meriting debarment 
or revocation.
    With respect to the Department's proposal to require the use of a 
bond form with standardized language, namely the proposed Form ETA-
9142A--Appendix B, a coalition of workers' rights advocacy 
organizations supported the proposal, explaining that it would 
``promote efficiency during the review process and greater compliance 
with surety bond requirements.'' An employers' agent similarly 
supported this proposal. This agent, as well as a trade association 
representing the surety industry, noted that insurers and sureties 
should have the opportunity to review the Department's proposed 
standardized bond language. However, another employers' agent opposed 
the ``one size fits all approach'' of using standardized bond language, 
arguing that ``parties to the instrument, as private parties engaging 
in an arm's length transaction, should have the contractual freedom to 
include additional protections, in amount or subject matter than called 
for under the regulations within one instrument.'' This commenter did 
not express specific concerns relating to the provisions of proposed 
Form ETA-9142A--Appendix B.
    After considering these comments, the Department adopts its 
proposal to require the use of a standardized bond form. The Department 
notes that the language in the Department's proposed bond form, Form 
ETA-9142A--Appendix B, was included in the PRA package of the NPRM. 
Further, to the extent that this proposed language differs in substance 
from the current bond requirements at 29 CFR 501.9, these differences 
were detailed in the NPRM. See 84 FR 36168, 36203-36205. An H-2ALC 
surety bond is a contract governed by Federal regulation between three 
parties: the H-2ALC, the surety, and the Department. As such, private 
parties to such a contract should not expect unfettered contractual 
freedom. The use of standardized bond language is necessary for the 
Department to ensure that the bonds submitted by H-2ALCs comply with 
the regulatory requirements and will facilitate processing efficiency 
as the Department will not be required to review bonds that vary 
considerably in wording and form. This is no different from the 
Department's use of other standardized forms that make up the 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification and which become 
binding on the H-2A employer. Further, the use of a standard bond form 
does not prevent the H-2ALC and surety from entering into a separate 
contract, provided, of course, that such contract does not alter the 
parties' obligations vis-[agrave]-vis the Department, limit in any way 
the Department's ability to collect on a bond, or undermine the 
purposes of the bonding requirement and/or H-2A requirements generally.
    The Department also received comments addressing the specific 
language and/or requirements proposed in the NPRM and incorporated into 
the proposed Form ETA-9142A--Appendix B. For example, the Department's 
proposed bond language retained the requirement that a surety pay sums 
for wages and benefits owed to H-2A workers, workers in corresponding 
employment, and U.S. workers improperly rejected from employment, laid 
off, or displaced based on a final decision finding a violation or 
violations of 20 CFR part 655, subpart B, or 29 CFR part 501, but 
clarified that the wages and benefits owed may include the assessment 
of interest. In response, an employers' agent stated that it 
``disagreed with interest being attached to the scope of coverage 
without quantification.'' The Department notes that an assessment of 
interest may be required to make an employee whole, and both WHD and 
the Department's administrative tribunals permit, and in some cases 
require, the assessment of interest on back wages. The required rate of 
interest is determined by law and is specified in WHD's determination 
letters and final orders, as well as administrative case law.\98\ 
Further, a surety's liability on any particular bond is capped at the 
face value of that bond; thus, any assessment of interest included for 
wages and benefits will not increase the potential liability of the 
surety. Accordingly, the Department adopts this proposed language as 
written.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \98\ Interest assessed by WHD is governed by 31 U.S.C. 3717. 
Interest assessed by the Department's administrative tribunals is 
governed by Doyle v. Hydro Nuclear Servs., Nos. 99-041, 99-042, and 
00-012, 2000 WL 694384, at *16-17 (ARB May 17, 2000).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department received several comments addressing its proposals 
to clarify the time period during which liability on the bond accrues 
(``liability period''), as distinguished from the time in which the 
Department may bring a claim (``claims period''); to automatically 
include in the liability period any extensions of the applicable 
temporary agricultural labor certification; to extend the claims period 
for filing a claim; and to omit the provision permitting a surety to 
cancel a bond with 45 days' written notice. A coalition of workers' 
rights advocacy organizations supported the proposals noting that these 
would promote efficiency. Two trade associations and one employer 
opposed the proposal to extend and simplify the time period in which a 
claim can be filed against a surety from the current claims period of 
``no less than 2 years'' to 3 years, based on the mistaken 
understanding that this will increase a surety's total liability to 
three times the face value of the bond.
    This confusion articulated in the comments is precisely why the 
Department sought to clarify and further distinguish the time period in 
which liability on the bond accrues from the time period in which the 
Department may bring a claim. As explained in the NPRM, extending the 
claims period to 3 years (tolled by the commencement of any enforcement 
action) does not extend the accrual of liability. 84 FR 36168, 36204. 
Instead, it merely allows the Department more time to complete its 
investigations while retaining the ability to seek recovery from the 
surety. The surety's liability for a particular bond is still limited 
to the face value of that bond.
    A trade association representing the surety industry opposed the 
proposal to eliminate language permitting sureties to cancel a bond 
with 45 days' written notice, stating that this will increase the 
surety's risk in writing the bond and make it more difficult for 
employers to qualify for such a bond. It explained that ``[i]t is 
critically important for a surety to maintain the ability to cancel 
bond coverage if the bonded employer is found to be in violation of the 
terms of its agreement with the surety or if the



bonded employer's ability to perform the bonded obligations has 
materially changed and the surety is no longer able to offer 
security.''
    The Department appreciates this concern; however, as explained in 
the NPRM, this provision was never intended to permit a surety to 
cancel the bond during the liability period while the temporary 
agricultural labor certification is still in effect. Instead, it was 
intended as a means of ending the open-ended period in which claims 
could be filed by the Department. 84 FR 36168, 36204. Because the 
Department now extends and simplifies the claims period from ``no less 
than 2 years'' to 3 years (tolled by any enforcement action), there is 
no longer a need for this provision. Consistent with Sec.  501.9(d), 
currently, WHD does not permit the cancellation of bonds prior to 2 
years from the expiration of the temporary agricultural labor 
certification (tolled by any enforcement action). Moreover, during the 
tenure of this requirement, the Department has received few, if any, 
requests from sureties seeking to cancel a bond while the temporary 
agricultural labor certification was still in effect. The surety bond 
is an essential component of an H-2ALC's Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification, necessary to demonstrate an applicant's 
ability to discharge its financial obligations under the H-2A program. 
Accordingly, the Department believes that it is appropriate for the 
bond submitted with the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification to cover liability accrued during the entirety of the 
temporary agricultural labor certification and declines to add a 
mechanism by which sureties can terminate the accrual of liability 
during this period.
    After carefully considering these comments, the Department adopts 
its proposals to clarify and distinguish the liability and claims 
periods, to automatically include in the liability period any 
extensions of the applicable temporary agricultural labor 
certification, to extend the claims limitations period to 3 years, and 
to omit as unnecessary the provision permitting a surety to cancel a 
bond with 45 days' written notice, as proposed in the NPRM.
    Numerous comments from workers' rights advocacy organizations noted 
that improvements are needed to help victimized workers access surety 
bond funds. Specifically, a joint comment of 42 workers' rights 
advocacy organizations suggested that the Department revise the 
language of proposed Sec.  655.132(c) to make bonds payable either to 
the WHD Administrator or to workers who have received a judgment 
against the H-2ALC for violations of the temporary agricultural labor 
certification and job order, either through private litigation or State 
agency action, on the grounds that WHD does not have adequate resources 
to enforce all actions against H-2A employers. The Department declines 
to adopt this suggestion in this final rule. Permitting individual 
claimants to make demands on the bonds could lead to circumstances in 
which bond funds are depleted before the WHD Administrator completes an 
investigation and are not distributed proportionally among affected 
workers.
    The vast majority of bond-related comments focused on the 
Department's proposed adjustments to the required bond amounts to 
account for wage growth, as measured by increases in the AEWR, and to 
reflect dramatic increases in the crew sizes being certified. In 
general, workers' rights advocacy organizations supported the proposed 
adjustments, characterizing the proposal as a ``modest improvement[,] . 
. . important because H-2ALCs are often undercapitalized and unable to 
pay back workers for labor violations.'' Numerous workers' rights 
advocacy organizations supported the proposal but described the 
increases as insufficient. A coalition of 42 workers' rights advocacy 
organizations submitted a joint comment explaining that surety bond 
amounts are often insufficient to cover even unreimbursed inbound 
transportation expenses, let alone unpaid wages and other costs 
impermissibly borne by workers, and cited as support several prominent 
investigations in which WHD found that workers were entitled to wages 
and benefits exceeding the required surety bond amounts. This coalition 
supported increases to account for wage growth and increasingly large 
temporary agricultural labor certifications, but stated that, at a 
minimum, bond amounts should be sufficient to cover the costs of 
inbound and outbound transportation. Similarly, a commenter from 
academia supported these increases.
    In contrast, employers, employers' agents, and trade associations 
typically opposed these increases to the required bond amounts. For 
instance, an employers' agent urged the Department to maintain the 
existing bond amounts stating that these amounts are sufficient to 
ensure that H-2ALCs are able to discharge their financial obligations. 
A trade association stated that the proposed increases are 
``unnecessary and punitive'' and would have the effect of harming the 
larger and better-capitalized labor contractors. These commenters also 
stated that the Department failed to demonstrate the insufficiency of 
current bond amounts through data. Rather than adjust required bond 
amounts based on increases in the average AEWR and to account for 
temporary agricultural labor certifications covering 150 or more 
workers, this commenter suggested making across-the-board increases of 
30 percent to the required bond amounts. Two trade associations and an 
employer stated that the surety bonds are more akin to bail bonds than 
insurance policies because bonding companies do not rely on the 
reinsurance market to mitigate losses and instead scrutinize an 
applicant's assets when evaluating the potential risk associated with a 
bond; they recommended proceeding with caution until a market emerges 
in which a surety can better mitigate its risk. Several commenters 
stated that increases in bond amounts may make it impossible for some 
H-2ALCs to obtain bonds. Others stated that the methodology for 
calculating the required bond amounts is ``unnecessarily complex.'' A 
public policy organization recommended that the Department reduce the 
bond amounts required of H-2ALCs for which the Department has not 
submitted a surety bond claim in the previous 5 years.
    Commenters with ties to the shearing industry, including a State 
agency, trade associations, several employers, and an agent, stated 
that the increased bond amounts would prove difficult for the industry 
as it tends to operate with very small crew sizes. For example, several 
commenters explained employers in this industry may employ fewer than 
25 H-2A workers in a given year, but because these workers are employed 
under multiple temporary agricultural labor certifications, these 
employers are required to obtain significantly more in total bonds than 
those who employ the same number of workers under a single temporary 
agricultural labor certification. These commenters also stated that 
some sureties are hesitant to issue multiple bonds for the same 
employer and suggested allowing employers to maintain a single bond for 
multiple temporary agricultural labor certifications filed over the 
course of a year.
    A trade association representing the surety industry concurred in 
the Department's proposal to increase bond amounts as needed to 
accurately reflect the risk associated with wage requirements but noted 
that this may make it difficult for certain employers to obtain these 
bonds. This commenter



explained that employers may need to provide more detailed financial 
disclosures, tax returns, and/or credit scores to qualify for higher 
bond amounts and, in some cases, collateral may be required.
    Finally, an insurance provider and an employer both noted that the 
Department's proposed methodology does not account for differences in 
the length of time H-2A workers will be employed and proposed that 
required bond amounts be set at five percent of an employer's estimated 
gross payroll for its H-2A workers. As an alternative, the insurance 
provider suggested that back wages could be paid from an employer-
funded trust administered by the Department.
    After carefully considering comments pertaining to the appropriate 
amount of surety to be required of H-2ALCs, the Department adopts the 
methodology for determining required bond amounts detailed in the NPRM, 
with one modification. Under the proposal in the NPRM, to calculate the 
required bond amount for a temporary agricultural labor certification, 
the Department would start with a base bond amount (equal to the amount 
of the bond required under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule) and adjust 
proportionally on an annual basis to the degree that a nationwide 
average AEWR exceeds $9.25, i.e., by multiplying the base by the 
average AEWR and dividing that number by $9.25. The Department stated 
that, until the Department published an average AEWR, it would use a 
simple average of the 2018 AEWRs, which it calculated to be $12.20. 
However, given the increase in the AEWR since the publication of the 
NPRM, the Department has concluded that, until the Department publishes 
a different average AEWR, bond amounts will initially be calculated 
using an average AEWR of $14.28, based on the simple average of the 
2021 AEWRs. The average AEWR will be adjusted when the underlying AEWRs 
are adjusted. Thus, for a temporary agricultural labor certification 
covering 100 H-2A workers, the Department will calculate the required 
bond amount according to the following formula:

$75,000 (base amount) x $14.28 / $9.25 = $115,784 (updated bond 
amount).

    The Department has determined that further modification of the 
NPRM's methodology for determining required bond amounts is unwarranted 
at this time. The Department declines to adopt a commenter's suggestion 
that it use an across-the-board increase, rather than requiring 
additional incremental surety amounts for temporary agricultural labor 
certifications covering 150 or more H-2A workers, as an across-the-
board increase would not fairly account for the proportionally greater 
back wage liability associated with larger crew sizes. As the 
Department noted in the NPRM, the current bond framework, which the 
commenter's suggestion would perpetuate, ``disproportionately 
advantages larger H-2ALCs while providing diminishing levels of 
protection for employees of such contractors.'' See 84 FR 36168, 36205.
    Likewise, the Department disagrees with commenters arguing that 
bond amounts should not be increased. Based on the Department's 
enforcement experience, bond amounts are often insufficient to cover 
the amount of wages and benefits owed by H-2ALCs, limiting the 
Department's ability to seek back wages for workers. Id. at 36204. 
Indeed, as bond amounts have remained the same since 2010, these 
amounts do not reflect subsequent wage growth or the dramatic increase 
in the number of workers covered by temporary agricultural labor 
certifications. Id. at 36204-36205. The Department believes that 
requiring additional surety for such temporary agricultural labor 
certifications is not punitive but rather necessary to ensure fairness 
among labor contractors and for workers. The Department recognizes that 
some H-2ALCs may not have sufficient financial resources and/or 
creditworthiness to obtain the higher required surety bond amounts and, 
as a result, will be unable to employ 150 or more H-2A workers under a 
single temporary agricultural labor certification. The Department notes 
that the purpose of the surety bond requirement is to ensure that labor 
contractors will be able to discharge their financial responsibilities, 
including meeting their payroll and other program obligations. To the 
extent that some labor contractors lack the financial resources and/or 
creditworthiness to obtain the requisite bonds, it may be appropriate 
for these contractors to hire fewer workers.\99\ Accordingly, this 
final rule adopts the Department's proposal under which the bond amount 
applicable to temporary agricultural labor certifications covering 100 
or more H-2A workers is used as a starting point and is increased for 
each additional set of 50 H-2A workers. The interval by which the bond 
amount increases will be based on the amount of wages earned by 50 
workers over a 2-week period and, in its initial implementation, will 
be calculated using an average AEWR of $14.28 as demonstrated:
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \99\ Several commenters, though not those from the surety or 
insurance industries, stated that bonding companies do not rely on 
the reinsurance market and thus have no way in which to mitigate 
losses. While some sureties may choose not to rely on reinsurance, 
the Department notes this is by no means uniform in the industry.

$14.28 (Average AEWR) x 80 hours x 50 workers = $57,120 in additional 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
bond for each additional 50 H-2A workers over 100.

    Thus, under this final rule, a temporary agricultural labor 
certification covering a crew of 275 H-2A workers will require 
additional surety of $171,360. This amount is calculated by determining 
the number of additional full sets of 50 workers beyond the first 100 
workers covered by the temporary agricultural labor certification and 
then multiplying this number by the amount of additional surety 
required per each set of additional 50 workers (275-100 = 175; 175/50 = 
3.5; this is three additional sets of 50 workers; 3 x $57,120 = 
$171,360). This additional surety will be added to the bond amount 
required for temporary agricultural labor certifications of 100 or more 
H-2A workers resulting in a required bond amount of $287,144 ($115,784 
required for temporary agricultural labor certifications of 100 or more 
H-2A workers + $171,360 in additional surety).
    The Department declines proposals to consider additional variables, 
such as the costs of inbound and outbound transportation or estimated 
gross payroll, or to replace the average AEWR with another measure of 
wages in its methodology for determining required bond amounts. While 
these proposals may in some instances permit the required bond amounts 
to more closely account for the potential back wage liability for 
particular temporary agricultural labor certifications, these would 
unduly complicate the calculation and review of the required bond 
amounts and slow the Department's processing of H-2A applications. The 
Department believes at this time that the methodology included in the 
final rule is sufficient to address most monetary violations, including 
those stemming from a failure to provide inbound and outbound 
transportation, and thus to limit program abuse and any resulting 
adverse effect on U.S. workers. The Department will continue to monitor 
the efficacy of the surety bond requirements and will propose revisions 
to these requirements as needed to assure that bond amounts are 
sufficient.
    Likewise, the Department declines the proposal from commenters with 
ties to the shearing industry to allow such



employers to maintain a single bond covering all temporary agricultural 
labor certifications in a given year, as doing so would require the 
Department, when reviewing applications from H-2ALCs, to check all 
prior applications filed during the year to ensure that the bond is 
sufficient to cover both the current application and prior 
applications, potentially slowing down the approval of such 
applications.\100\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \100\ While the January 2021 draft final rule would have 
responded to these concerns by creating a lower tier of bonds with a 
proportionally lower bond amount for temporary agricultural labor 
certifications covering fewer than 10 workers, after further review, 
the Department has decided against creating a separate bond tier for 
temporary agricultural labor certifications covering fewer than 10 
H-2A workers because doing so would create a risk that workers 
employed under such temporary agricultural labor certifications will 
be left without sufficient recompense in the event that their H-2ALC 
employers fail to satisfy their financial obligations.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department also declines to replace the surety bond requirement 
with an employer-funded trust. Unlike the bonding requirement, which 
helps to ensure that an H-2ALC is in compliance with its program 
obligations, see 2008 H-2A Final Rule, 73 FR 77110, 77163 (citing 8 
U.S.C. 1188(g)(2)), the payment of back wages from an employer-funded 
trust would distribute responsibility for an H-2ALC's noncompliance 
among all contributing employers, including those who meet their 
program obligations, and may not provide as robust a deterrent against 
individual noncompliance as surety bonds. Further, the creation of such 
a trust would require considerable initial funding, as well as 
Department resources, which could undermine the recovery of back wages 
in the short-term.
    Finally, the Department declines to offer discounted bond amounts 
for those H-2ALCs for which the Department has not submitted surety 
bond claims in the previous 5-year period. Because WHD investigates 
only a fraction of the H-2ALCs that operate in a given year, the fact 
that WHD has not pursued an H-2ALC's surety for the collection of 
unpaid back wages or found violations in the previous 5 years is not an 
indication of compliance or decreased potential liability. The length 
of the Department's administrative appeals process and any ensuing 
Federal court litigation means that a noncompliant employer could 
litigate a back wage award for years to avoid losing such a discount, 
potentially incentivizing appeals. Further, the surety may consider an 
H-2ALC's record of compliance when determining the premiums to be 
charged.
4. Section 655.133, Requirements for Agents
    The NPRM did not propose changes to the requirements for agents to 
provide, at the time of filing, a copy of the agent agreement or other 
document demonstrating the agent's authority to represent the employer 
as well as a copy of the agent's MSPA FLC Certificate of Registration, 
if required under MSPA at 29 U.S.C. 1801 et seq., that identifies the 
specific farm labor contracting activities the agent is authorized to 
perform. Therefore, this final rule retains the current requirements 
without change.
5. Section 655.134, Emergency Situations
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to clarify 
procedures for accepting an emergency Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification filed by employers and to conform with other 
procedural changes proposed in the NPRM and adopted in this final rule. 
The Department received some comments on this provision, none of which 
necessitated substantive changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as 
discussed below, this provision remains unchanged from the NPRM, except 
for technical corrections for clarity.
    Paragraph (a) of Sec.  655.134 addresses the function of the 
emergency situations provision, while paragraph (b) addresses what an 
employer must submit to the NPC when filing an Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification and requesting a waiver of the 
filing timeframe due to an emergency situation. To better focus 
paragraphs (a) and (b) by topic, the Department proposed to move a 
parenthetical example of ``good and substantial cause'' from paragraph 
(a) to paragraph (b), where the regulation provides a nonexclusive list 
of factors that may constitute good and substantial cause. In addition, 
the Department proposed to expand the nonexclusive list of factors to 
include additional examples, such as the substantial loss of U.S. 
workers due to Acts of God or a similar unforeseeable man-made 
catastrophic event (such as a hazardous materials emergency or 
government-controlled flooding).
    One commenter noted the list of required documents in paragraph (b) 
was unclear and suggested the Department revise the wording or 
punctuation to avoid confusion about whether the Department meant to 
exclude only the first item in the list after the word ``except'' 
(i.e., evidence of a job order submitted pursuant to Sec.  655.121) or 
all of the items after the word ``except.'' The Department appreciates 
this suggestion and has revised the punctuation of this list of 
required documents to clarify that the only evidence excepted is a job 
order submitted pursuant to Sec.  655.121. Under most circumstances, an 
employer using the emergency situations procedures would not need to 
submit a job order in advance of its Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification; therefore, there would not be evidence of a 
pre-filing job order. However, all other documentation required at the 
time of filing under Sec.  655.130(a) is required at the time of filing 
under Sec.  655.134. In addition, an employer's emergency waiver 
request submission must include a completed job order on the Form ETA-
790/790A, including all required addenda, and a statement justifying 
the request for a waiver of the normal filing timeframe requirement.
    In paragraph (c), the Department also proposed changes to simplify 
the emergency application filing process for employers, provide greater 
clarity with respect to the procedures for handling such applications, 
and conform to other changes proposed in this rulemaking. For example, 
the Department proposed to eliminate the language referring to 
concurrent submission of the emergency situations filing to the NPC and 
SWA, as under this final rule employers submit job orders to the NPC 
and the NPC electronically transmits them to the SWA; the same process 
applies to emergency situations job orders.
    Further, the Department proposed language to clarify the 
transmittal and review procedures. The CO will promptly transmit a copy 
of the job order to the SWA serving the AIE for review. The SWA will 
review the job order for compliance with the requirements set forth in 
20 CFR part 653, subpart F,\101\ and Sec.  655.122, and, within 5 
calendar days of receiving the job order from the CO, the SWA will 
inform the CO of any deficiencies found. Based on the information 
provided by the SWA and the CO's own concurrent review, the CO will 
make a decision to issue a NOD under Sec.  655.141 or a NOA under Sec.  
655.143; and, then, the CO will make a final determination



in accordance with Sec. Sec.  655.160 through 655.167.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \101\ In the proposed regulatory text, the Department 
inadvertently referenced only the job order content review at Sec.  
653.501(c), rather than 20 CFR part 653, subpart F, in its entirety. 
To ensure SWA review of job orders submitted through the emergency 
situations provision is complete (e.g., includes a nondiscrimination 
content check under Sec.  653.501(d)(3)) and consistent with review 
of job orders under Sec.  655.121, as intended, paragraph (c)(1) has 
been revised to conform with Sec.  655.121(c)(3). See 84 FR 36168, 
36205 (NPRM noting proposed change to paragraph (c) ``makes the 
process for filing job orders in emergency situations consistent 
with the process for filing job orders under proposed Sec.  
655.121'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Finally, if the employer's submission did not justify waiver of the 
filing timeframe and/or the CO determined there is not sufficient time 
to undertake an expedited test of the labor market, the CO's NOD would 
include the reason(s) why the waiver request cannot be granted and 
provide the employer with an opportunity to submit a modified job order 
that brings the requested workers' start date into compliance with the 
non-emergency filing timeframe requirement at Sec.  655.121(b) (i.e., 
first date of need must be no less than 60 days from the submission 
date).
    A workers' rights advocacy organization objected to the existence 
of the emergency situations waiver, on principle, and to the extent it 
is continued in this final rule, urged the Department to limit its use. 
The workers' rights advocacy organization expressed concern the 
emergency situations waiver request process undermines the SWA's 
ability to evaluate job orders and assess U.S. worker availability, 
thereby undermining the Department's statutory obligation. The 
Department appreciates the commenter's concern and recognizes that a 
correction to paragraph (c)(1) is necessary to ensure SWA review of job 
orders submitted through the emergency situations provision is complete 
(e.g., includes a nondiscrimination content check under Sec.  
653.501(d)(3)) and consistent with review of job orders under Sec.  
655.121, as intended. Therefore, paragraph (c)(1) has been revised in 
this final rule to clarify that the SWA's review encompasses 20 CFR 
part 653, subpart F, in its entirety, rather than only the job order 
content requirements at Sec.  653.501(c). The revisions adopted in this 
final rule make the SWA's involvement in reviewing the job order clear. 
See Sec.  655.134(c)(1). Further, even where an employer justifies its 
request as a qualifying emergency situation, if the CO determines there 
is insufficient time to appropriately test the domestic labor market on 
an expedited basis and satisfy the Department's statutory obligation, 
the CO will not approve the employer's emergency situations waiver 
request.
    Commenters, including trade associations and agents, generally 
supported the proposed revisions to Sec.  655.134. A trade association 
expressed appreciation for the Department's simplification and 
clarification of emergency situations waiver request procedures, noting 
that time is critical in emergency situations. This commenter 
specifically expressed support for the inclusion of an opportunity for 
the employer to modify its application or job order to bring it into 
compliance with non-emergency timeframe requirements in lieu of denial.
    Among commenters who generally supported the proposed revisions to 
Sec.  655.134, a couple objected to replacement of the term 
``unforeseen'' with ``unforeseeable,'' which they viewed as a possible 
change in the standard of review and a higher threshold for employers 
to meet. However, the Department did not intend to create any material 
change in the regulatory standard though the use of the term 
``unforeseeable.'' Rather, the revision is necessary to establish 
greater consistency--and avoid potential misunderstanding--between the 
H-2A standard for emergency situation waivers and a similar provision 
contained in the 2015 H-2B IFR at Sec.  655.17; the Department does not 
have a different foreseeability standard in H-2A than H-2B and using 
different terms could suggest that possibility.\102\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \102\ Pursuant to Sec.  655.17(b), the employer may request a 
waiver of the required time period(s) for filing an H-2B Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification based on good and substantial 
cause that ``may include, but is not limited to, the substantial 
loss of U.S. workers due to Acts of God, or a similar unforeseeable 
man-made catastrophic event (such as an oil spill or controlled 
flooding) that is wholly outside of the employer's control, 
unforeseeable changes in market conditions, or pandemic health 
issues.'' 2015 H-2B IFR, 80 FR 24042, 24116-24117.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A workers' rights advocacy organization expressed concern 
``unforeseeable changes in market conditions'' and ``similar conditions 
that are wholly outside of the employer's control'' are terms that are 
``too broad and too vague and might encompass situations which would 
not warrant . . . a waiver'' of the normal timeframe and the resulting 
abbreviated U.S. worker recruitment period. For example, this commenter 
worried that normal but unpredictable market fluctuations could qualify 
as an emergency situation. However, normal market fluctuations, despite 
being individually unpredictable, are a foreseeable aspect of 
conducting business. As demonstrated in the nonexclusive list of 
situations that might justify an emergency situations waiver, the 
Department envisions circumstances which are unforeseeable and wholly 
outside of the employer's control.
6. Section 655.135, Assurances and Obligations of H-2A Employers
a. Paragraph (c), Recruitment Requirements
    Although the Department proposed no changes to paragraph (c) in the 
NPRM, the Department is revising it in this final rule, as necessary, 
to reorganize the mandatory recruitment obligation provisions. As 
previously discussed in this preamble, commenters expressed concern 
about the placement of mandatory recruitment obligations in the 
proposed optional pre-filing recruitment provision at Sec.  655.123. In 
addition, after considering comments, the Department decided not to 
adopt the proposed pre-filing recruitment provision, as explained 
above. To retain the mandatory recruitment obligation provisions and 
clarify their applicability to all employers engaged in recruitment 
under this subpart, the Department relocated the mandatory recruitment 
obligations paragraphs proposed at Sec.  655.123(d) and (e) to Sec.  
655.135(c). In this final rule, proposed paragraph (c) of Sec.  655.135 
is now paragraph (c)(1), and proposed paragraphs Sec.  655.123(d) and 
(e) are now paragraphs Sec.  655.135(c)(2) and (3). This reorganization 
retains the requirement that an employer, in all cases, must accept and 
hire all qualified, available U.S. worker applicants through the end of 
the recruitment period set forth in Sec.  655.135(d) and, if an 
employer requires interviews, the employer must conduct those 
interviews in a way that imposes little or no cost on U.S. worker 
applicants and ensures no less favorable treatment than that offered to 
H-2A workers.
b. Paragraph (d), 30-Day Rule
    Under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, employers of H-2A workers are 
required to hire any qualified, eligible U.S. worker who applies for 
the employer's job opportunities during the first 50 percent of the 
work contract period (``50 percent rule''), unless an exemption for 
certain small employers applies. In the NPRM, the Department proposed 
to replace the 50 percent rule with a 30-day rule. The proposed 30-day 
rule would have required employers to provide employment to any 
qualified, eligible U.S. worker who applied for the job opportunity 
until 30 calendar days from the employer's first date of need on the 
certified Application for Temporary Employment Certification, including 
any approved modifications. For those employers who would have chosen 
to stagger the entry of H-2A workers into the United States under 
proposed Sec.  655.130(f), the Department proposed to extend the 
mandatory hiring period



through the last date on which the employer expected a foreign worker 
to enter the country, or apply the 30-day period, if longer. The 
proposed change to the mandatory hiring period was intended to strike 
an appropriate balance between the need to ensure U.S. workers' access 
to H-2A job opportunities and employer burdens and operational 
disruptions caused by hiring U.S. workers mid-season. As explained in 
the NPRM, the 30-day rule proposal was based on the Department's 
analysis of hiring practices indicating relatively few U.S. workers 
applied or were referred for job opportunities after the initial 30-day 
period. The Department determined that this finding, in conjunction 
with other proposed changes, such as the proposed staggered entry 
provision and related mandatory hiring period, justified a change from 
the 50 percent rule to reduce administrative and employer burdens. See 
84 FR 36168, 36207. The Department invited stakeholders to comment with 
data illustrating the costs and benefits of the 50 percent rule, 
particularly by providing comprehensive studies of the frequency with 
which H-2A employers hire U.S. workers pursuant to the 50 percent rule. 
However, the comments received, both in support of and in opposition to 
the proposal, were largely anecdotal.
    After consideration of all comments, the Department has decided, 
for the reasons explained below, not to adopt the proposed 30-day rule 
and, instead, will retain the 50 percent rule from the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule, as discussed below.
    The Department received several comments strongly opposing the 
proposed 30-day rule and elimination of the 50 percent rule, including 
comments from many workers' rights and immigration advocacy 
organizations, several State employment agencies, two U.S. Senators, a 
U.S. Representative, a public policy organization, a labor union, a 
trade association, an international recruiting company, and a commenter 
from academia. The commenters' primary concern was that the proposal 
would reduce employers' obligations to recruit and hire U.S. workers, 
thus reducing U.S. workers' access to these jobs. A U.S. Representative 
asserted the proposal would ``undermine[ ] long-standing protections 
that help ensure employers are not incentivized to hire guest workers, 
who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse due to their temporary 
immigration status, over domestic workers.'' Quoting a district court 
decision, a workers' rights advocacy organization opposed to the 
proposal noted that the 50 percent rule is a vital ``safety net to 
protect the jobs of citizens'' that ensures protections for ``small 
groups of available domestic employees who might not be known to [the 
Department] at the time of the initial certification . . . .''
    Several commenters emphasized the importance of the 50 percent rule 
to U.S. agricultural workers who seek employment in a job opportunity 
more than 30 days after the start date for various reasons related to 
unexpected events, migratory labor patterns, differing dates of 
seasonal need, and interest in improved pay and benefits. A workers' 
rights advocacy organization noted that ``uncertainty of agriculture 
caused by unexpected severe weather conditions'' causes hardships for 
agricultural workers and asserted that under the proposed shortened 
recruitment period, workers displaced by crop loss would ``have fewer 
alternative options,'' and workers displaced after a natural disaster 
would have greater difficulty finding substitute employment. Another 
workers' rights advocacy organization stated that the 50 percent rule 
would protect U.S. worker job opportunities in the event an employer's 
worker(s) leaves the job early, but after 30 days have elapsed, ``due 
to being injured, getting ill, having a family emergency, or any other 
eventuality.'' A third workers' rights advocacy organization stated 
that elimination of the 50 percent rule ``would make it difficult for 
[workers] . . . to change places of employment in cases of employer 
abuse.'' A workers' rights advocacy organization stated that the 
presence of U.S. workers at a worksite forces an H-2A employer to 
compete with other employers and makes it more likely that abusive H-2A 
employers will be exposed. Another advocacy organization expressed 
concern that the shortened recruitment period would reduce the period 
of time during which a U.S. worker may leave current employment to 
accept an H-2A job that pays a ``higher wage and provides free 
transportation and housing if applicable . . . instead of settling for 
a non-H-2A job that may have lower pay and no legal requirement to 
provide transportation, housing, or other protections such as workers 
compensation.'' One commenter asserted the proposal would make it 
easier for agricultural employers to avoid their obligations to U.S. 
farmworkers, including unionized farmworkers, by engaging in 
intentionally ``ineffective recruitment'' and ``refus[ing] to hire 
qualified U.S. workers.'' Other commenters stated that the proposal 
would increase recruitment efforts within a reduced window for Migrant 
Services Outreach Workers and asserted the longer recruitment period 
allows workers to overcome employer attempts to discourage domestic 
farmworkers from applying or shut them out entirely.
    Several workers' rights and immigration advocacy organizations and 
a labor union noted that ``[o]n many farms, hiring continues beyond the 
first day of work before the peak of the harvest season.'' One of these 
commenters stated that ``[s]ome U.S. workers work in agricultural jobs 
for part of the year, work in other industries such as construction and 
retail for a certain period of the year, and then return to 
agricultural jobs.'' The commenter added that ``[s]ome local areas of 
employment and migrant streams involve contiguous states'' and 
agricultural workers ``alter their migration patterns depending on the 
terms and conditions of employment.'' A State employment agency 
asserted that ``limiting the availability of the job order to 30 days 
after the Date of Need (DON) will effectively limit the ability of U.S. 
workers to follow the crops as in the past.'' A workers' rights 
advocacy organization noted that ``[i]n areas where migration is 
typical, crews are called to work in stages,'' with the number of crews 
``increas[ing] at peak season,'' and reduction in the post-
certification recruitment period would displace ``[w]orkers who have 
reported for and worked in these jobs for years'' by permitting 
employers ``to reject U.S. workers who report to work on the exact date 
they had begun work the year before, which could be after the 30-day 
deadline.''
    Some commenters who opposed the proposal took issue with the hiring 
practices data the Department cited in the NPRM. A workers' rights 
advocacy organization also commented that the Department's data assume 
that the SWAs are properly implementing the 50 percent rule, but there 
are multiple instances where the SWAs miscalculate the 50 percent rule 
period and shorten the recruitment period. Other commenters generally 
emphasized the continuing importance of the SWA referral process. One 
of these commenters cited a 2018 monitor advocate report indicating 
SWAs referred more than 35,000 U.S. workers for H-2A job opportunities 
in 2015. A State employment agency asserted the data on which the 
Department relied were insufficient to justify elimination of the 50 
percent rule because it examined ``only 20 percent of the selected H-2A 
applications audited.'' A



workers' rights advocacy organization asserted the decision to 
eliminate the 50 percent rule was arbitrary and capricious because the 
Department failed ``to present any evidence of disruption caused by the 
50 [percent] rule'' and failed to account for employers discouraging 
U.S. workers from applying for jobs. Two U.S. Senators expressed 
concern that the ``lack of any data in the NPRM reflecting the lengths 
of work contracts'' prevented the public from ``sufficiently 
respond[ing] to the potential effects of the Department's proposal'' 
and ``exacerbates the concern . . . that eliminating the 50 percent 
rule will harm U.S. workers.''
    The Senators also asserted ``the Department fail[ed] to provide any 
quantitative analysis and offer[ed] generalized assertions to support 
its claim that the employer costs of compliance with the 50 percent 
rule outweigh the benefit to U.S. workers.'' Similarly, a State agency 
that urged the Department to maintain the 50 percent rule noted the 
requirement is longstanding and ``the data shows there have been 
minimal disruptions to agricultural employers.'' Some commenters said 
that the rationale for eliminating the 50 percent rule was faulty 
because if the number of workers applying during the 50 percent rule 
period are low, then the cost to employers is negligible. Many workers' 
rights advocacy organizations agreed and cited to the early 
congressional study indicating the 50 percent rule not only provides an 
important protection for U.S. workers but does so with minimal burden 
to employers. Several of these commenters noted the report's conclusion 
that ``[i]n comparing the tangible benefits and costs alone, the 
benefits of the 50 Percent Rule outweigh the costs'' and that ``the 
costs of the 50 Percent Rule have been minimal and that the Rule has 
not had any particular negative impacts on either growers or U.S. 
workers.'' Other commenters pointed to the Department's 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule, which concluded that the 50 percent rule's benefits to workers 
outweighed the costs to employers, and that there was a lack of 
definitive data cutting in either direction.
    In contrast, many commenters, including trade associations, 
employers, agents, individual commenters, a State agency, and a public 
policy organization, expressed support for the proposal. Some stated 
that few workers apply beyond the first 30 days, so the impact on U.S. 
workers would be minimal. Others stated that the proposal also would 
provide employers with more certainty and reduced costs. Another stated 
that it was difficult to train workers who are hired months after the 
season starts, and others said the proposal would reduce workplace 
disruptions caused by hiring new workers later in the contract period. 
Some stated that it was very difficult for agricultural employers to 
find domestic workers for these jobs. A State agency commented that the 
proposal would allow States to conduct concentrated recruitment of 
domestic workers at the beginning of the period of need. Some 
commenters added that the proposal provides a clear, bright-line rule 
as to employers' hiring obligations. An employer commented that once 
harvest begins, workers change location every 30 to 45 days, and most 
U.S. workers hired under the rule refuse to travel, so their employment 
is short term. Another commenter said that the proposal would be 
beneficial to H-2A workers who may be displaced by domestic workers 
well into the contract.
    Some commenters who expressed support for the proposal to replace 
the 50 percent rule also suggested that the Department should further 
reduce the period during which employers must hire U.S. workers. 
Commenters suggested that the Department require employers to hire U.S. 
workers during a set period, pre-season, ending no later than when the 
H-2A workers depart from their home country to travel to the United 
States (i.e., coinciding with the end of the employer's positive 
recruitment period under Sec.  655.143(b)(3)). Other commenters 
suggested that the Department adopt the H-2B rule that requires 
recruitment until 21 days before the first date of the need (Sec.  
655.40(c)). Alternatively, one commenter suggested that, given the 
shorter time period involved in the H-2A filing process, the Department 
could adopt a modified version of the H-2B rule's recruitment period by 
reducing the recruitment period to as little as 7 to 10 days before the 
first date of need. An agent commented that the job order should stay 
open for the entire recruitment period unless the employer notifies the 
Department that all jobs have been filled, at which time, the job order 
should be closed. The commenter also suggested that the job order 
should be reopened if workers are needed at any time during the 
contract period.
    An agent also objected to the proposal insofar as it eliminated the 
``small employer exemption'' to the rule, which excused certain small 
businesses from any hiring obligation after the end of the positive 
recruitment period and encouraged the Department to retain the existing 
small employer exemption framework with the proposed 30-day rule. The 
commenter stated that it was unreasonable to require a small employer 
to continue recruiting U.S. workers even 30 days into the season, 
because smaller operations do not enjoy the same margins for error and 
cannot easily absorb workforce disruptions during the season. 
Additionally, the commenter stated that the Department failed to 
explain why the exemption should be removed from the regulations. 
Another commenter stated that the small employer exemption was 
important to maintain.
    The Department takes seriously its obligation to protect workers in 
the United States from potential adverse impact resulting from the 
employment of H-2A workers and appreciates the many comments it 
received on the proposed change to the post-certification mandatory 
hiring period. After careful consideration of all comments, and in 
light of the substantial concerns expressed by immigration and workers' 
rights advocacy organizations, U.S. Senators and Representatives, State 
employment agencies, and others, the Department has decided not to 
adopt the proposed 30-day rule. Instead, the Department will retain the 
50 percent rule it has applied nearly continuously for decades.
    The Department notes, first, that in reaching its decision to 
retain the longstanding 50 percent rule, it was not persuaded by the 
congressionally required study to which several commenters referred, as 
that study was commissioned by the Secretary of Labor in 1990 and 
focused on the impact of the 50 percent rule in only two States--
Virginia and Idaho. See 2008 H-2A NPRM, 73 FR 8538, 8553. The research 
firm that produced the study interviewed only 66 growers, constituting 
only 0.1 percent of Virginia and Idaho's 64,346 farms at the time of 
the study. The study's age and small size render it an unreliable 
measure of the current impact of the 50 percent rule. The reasoning in 
the 2010 H-2A Final Rule also was similarly not determinative here--in 
that rule, the Department reinstated the 50 percent rule because of a 
lack of definitive data. 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6922.
    Since then, the Department has conducted its own analysis of hiring 
practices, as noted in the NPRM. Based on a small set of recruitment 
reports obtained through the audit examination process, the hiring 
practices data cited in the NPRM demonstrate that most U.S. workers who 
apply for agricultural jobs do so before the start of the work 
contract. Based on these data, the



Department considered adopting the reduced recruitment period in the 
January 2021 draft final rule but acknowledged that some U.S. workers 
apply for these jobs after the employer's first date of need. 
Specifically, the Department's analysis of certified H-2A applications 
covering more than 33,510 jobs indicated that 3,392 U.S. workers 
applied for the available job opportunities at some point from the 
beginning of the employer's H-2A recruitment efforts through 50 percent 
of the work contract period and 16 percent of these U.S. workers 
applied and/or were hired more than 30 days after the start date of 
work.
    Although the vast majority of workers who apply after the start 
date of work apply during the first 30 days of a work contract, the 
Department acknowledges that the analysis is based on a limited set of 
data available from employer recruitment reports selected for audit 
examination. After further consideration of comments and the available 
data, the Department agrees with commenters who note the burden the 50 
percent rule imposes on employers in those limited cases where U.S 
workers apply beyond the proposed 30-day period is minimal and 
outweighed by the interests of the hundreds or potentially thousands of 
domestic migrant and seasonal farmworkers who may want to apply for the 
job opportunity more than 30 days after the first date of need. The 50 
percent rule was initially a creation of the INA and designed to 
enhance domestic worker access to job opportunities for which H-2A 
workers were recruited. The Department believes any burden on employers 
as a result of the 50 percent rule is outweighed by the interests of 
the Department in ensuring U.S. workers are provided fair notice of H-
2A job opportunities and are not denied employment if they are 
qualified and available within an adequate period of time after the 
employer's start date.
    Additionally, the Department shares the concerns of commenters that 
changing the hiring period through this final rule could reduce U.S. 
workers' ability to access temporary and seasonal job opportunities and 
would raise the prospect of adverse impact resulting from the 
employment of H-2A workers. Furthermore, as several commenters pointed 
out, due to the nature of agricultural work, U.S. workers may need to 
seek new employment because of crop loss, or may need flexibility to 
follow crops as one work contract ends and another begins. These 
comments are consistent with comments from employers and associations 
that noted agricultural employers rarely need their entire workforce at 
the beginning of the season, but instead need a steadily increasing 
number of workers as the harvest intensifies. Both the proposed 30-day 
rule and the longstanding 50 percent rule weigh the same factors: on 
the one hand, ensuring U.S. worker applicants have a fair opportunity 
to apply for job opportunities so that they are not displaced by 
foreign workers; and on the other, recognizing the practical realities 
of agricultural work and the need to administer the INA in a way that 
is fair and reasonable for all affected parties, including employers. 
After considering the merits of the proposal and the significant number 
of comments expressing substantial concerns with a shorter hiring 
period, the Department has concluded that retaining the 50 percent rule 
best balances the objectives of ensuring the H-2A program operates in a 
way that is fair to all parties and provides adequate protections for 
U.S. workers, consistent with the Department's statutory mandate.
    The Department is sensitive to the concerns regarding the impact on 
small businesses and appreciates the agent's comment regarding the 
small employer exemption. In light of the Department's decision to 
retain the 50 percent rule, and further consideration of the regulatory 
history, the Department has decided to retain the small employer 
exemption in this final rule.\103\ In 1986, the IRCA added the 50 
percent rule to the INA as a temporary 3-year statutory requirement, 
which included an exemption for employers who, among other 
requirements, ``did not, during any calendar quarter during the 
preceding calendar year, use more than 500 man-days of agricultural 
labor, as defined in section 203(u) of title 29.'' 8 U.S.C. 
1188(c)(3)(B)(iii). That exemption was included in the Department's 
1987 H-2A IFR. 52 FR 20496, 20520. Although the statutory 50 percent 
rule and exemption were temporary, the corresponding requirements in 
the 1987 regulations had no expiration date. See 55 FR 29356, 29357 
(July 19, 1990). In 1990, ETA published an IFR to continue the 50 
percent rule, and included the small employer exemption. Id. at 29358. 
In 2008, the Department eliminated the 50 percent rule and created a 5-
year transitional period during which employers were required to hire 
U.S. workers for 30 days after the employer's first date of need. 2008 
H-2A Final Rule, 73 FR 77110, 77128. The 30-day requirement did not 
include an exemption for small businesses, and the final rule offered 
no explanation for the omission. In 2010, the Department reinstated the 
50 percent rule, including the small employer exemption, stating that 
the exemption ``minimize[s] the adverse effect on those operations 
least able to absorb additional workers.'' 2009 H-2A NPRM, 74 FR 45906, 
45917. In light of the Department's decision to retain the longstanding 
50 percent rule, the Department also is retaining the small employer 
exemption in this final rule.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \103\ The January 2021 draft final rule would have eliminated 
the small employer exemption because the mandatory hiring period 
under the 30-day rule would have been shorter than under the 50 
percent rule.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In addition to the comments addressed above, the Department also 
received a few comments addressing issues beyond the scope of the 
proposal to replace the 50 percent rule with the 30-day rule. One 
commenter said that worker referrals preceding the date of need should 
not automatically reduce the number of H-2A workers certified in the 
application, and the employer should have the discretion to either 
reduce the number of H-2A positions or hire both domestic referrals and 
H-2A workers. Another commenter suggested that to mitigate the 
inconvenience of hiring U.S. workers after the start of the contract, 
the Department should facilitate the placement of displaced H-2A 
workers in immediate, subsequent H-2A employment elsewhere. Another 
suggested treating H-2A workers in the country the same as U.S. workers 
for purposes of recruitment, which would require employers to prove 
that no H-2A workers already in the country are available to fill the 
positions. However, these suggestions are beyond the scope of this 
rulemaking.
    The Department also invited comments on the proposed recruitment 
period for employers who chose to stagger the entry of H-2A workers. 
However, as the Department has decided not to adopt the proposed 
staggered entry provision, the issue of the related recruitment period 
is moot.
    Accordingly, under this final rule, unless the small employer 
exemption applies, an employer granted temporary agricultural labor 
certification must continue to provide employment to any qualified, 
eligible U.S. worker who applies until 50 percent of the period of the 
work contract has elapsed, and an employer must update the recruitment 
report for each U.S. worker who applies through the entire recruitment 
period.
c. Paragraph (k), Contracts With Third Parties Comply With Prohibitions
    The Department received a few comments regarding this provision of 
the NPRM, which the Department considered. The Department now adopts



the language proposed without change. The current regulation requires 
employers to contractually forbid any engaged foreign labor contractor 
or recruiter (or their agents) from seeking or receiving payments or 
other compensation from prospective workers; the employer must provide 
documentation of the prohibition upon request. In the NPRM, the 
Department proposed to amend Sec.  655.135(k) to clarify that employers 
engaging any foreign labor contractor or recruiter ``must contractually 
prohibit in writing'' the foreign labor contractor or recruiter, or any 
agent of such contractor or recruiter, from seeking or receiving 
payments from prospective employees. As explained in the NPRM, the 
Department has specified the contractual language that employers must 
use to satisfy this requirement for employers' convenience and to 
facilitate consistent and uniform compliance. 84 FR 36168, 36208.
    The revision makes it clear that foreign labor contractors or 
recruiters and their agents are not to receive remuneration from 
prospective employees recruited in exchange for access to a job 
opportunity or any activity related to obtaining H-2A labor 
certification. To help monitor compliance with this prohibition, the 
Department has retained the requirement that employers make these 
written contracts or agreements available upon request by the CO or 
another Federal party.
    A farmer and agent opposed the proposal because they believed the 
existing regulation was sufficient and that employers should be able to 
draft their own language prohibiting fees. The agent argued further 
that requiring specific contractual language could expose employers to 
a nonsubstantive violation, and furthermore that the Department had not 
provided a reason that the existing regulation was problematic. The 
Department understands employers' interest in drafting their own 
contractual language. However, the Department nonetheless has 
determined that it is necessary to require the specific language set 
forth in this provision to facilitate uniform application and 
compliance with the regulatory requirement. The previous regulatory 
requirement left room for employers to write language that may not have 
been clear or may not have conveyed the prohibition correctly. The 
language adopted in Sec.  655.135(k) should serve to remove any doubt 
concerning contractual parties' obligations under Sec.  655.135(k), and 
it makes it easier for employers to comply with the regulation.
    An international recruitment company, trade associations, and 
advocacy organizations explained that the Department has failed to 
prevent recruitment fees from being charged to foreign workers in the 
past, and that this has caused such foreign workers to be vulnerable to 
unlawful conduct and debts. One of the advocacy organizations opposed 
any changes that would lower wages or reduce worker protections or 
reduce Department oversight. The Department, in requiring the addition 
of this specific language under Sec.  655.135(k) clarifies the existing 
legal requirements. The Department acknowledges that, while 
organizations or people have nonetheless collected recruitment fees in 
violation of existing law, the change adopted in this final rule 
relates only to the addition of specific language in order to 
facilitate consistent and uniform compliance. Furthermore, the 
Department's processes and procedures meant to enforce this requirement 
are still in place.
    While noting that it approved of the additional contractual 
language proposed, one of the workers' rights advocacy organizations 
went on to explain that this prohibition for third parties causes 
employers to intentionally remain ignorant of the recruitment process. 
It argued that workers are discouraged from coming forward for fear 
they will be denied a visa and fear of retaliation or blacklisting from 
recruiters and employers. The organization explained that unlawful 
conduct surrounding recruitment leads to debt for workers and human 
trafficking, and then detailed numerous examples from case law to 
support the assertion that recruiters are not abiding by the current 
regulations and are abusing foreign workers. The organization put forth 
numerous suggestions relating to increased enforcement and transparency 
regarding the recruitment process and increased worker protections. The 
Department appreciates the concerns the workers' rights advocacy 
organization has raised regarding the treatment of workers. Although 
several of the suggestions are beyond the scope of this rulemaking, the 
Department has addressed related concerns in other relevant sections of 
this final rule. For example, the Department has retained the current 
regulations' anti-retaliation provision and has added debarment of 
agents and attorneys for their own misconduct in this final rule. See 
20 CFR 655.135(h) and 655.182; 29 CFR 501.20. The Department also 
believes the addition of the required contractual language is an 
important step toward ensuring that employers do not remain ignorant of 
the prohibitions and that any agreement with a third party clearly 
articulates the prohibitions.
    An agent suggested the regulation be revised further and argued 
that the employer's inclusion of this contractual language should be a 
``legal safe harbor'' to any claim brought against it to recover 
recruitment fees unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the 
employer knew or participated in the prohibited fees being requested. 
Through the proposed language in Sec.  655.135(k), the Department did 
not propose such a ``legal safe harbor,'' and was not attempting to 
affect the legal rights parties may have in any private civil claims. 
To the contrary, as the Department has previously made clear in both 
the 2008 and 2010 prior rulemakings, these contractual terms must be 
bona fide. 75 FR 6926. Creating a ``legal safe harbor'' could 
potentially undermine an employer's incentive to assure the bona fides 
of the contractual provisions, thereby undermining these important 
worker protections. Accordingly, the Department declines to incorporate 
such a provision.
7. Section 655.136, Withdrawal of an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification and Job Order
    As discussed earlier in this preamble under Sec.  655.124, the 
Department proposed to reorganize all withdrawal provisions so that, 
for example, the procedure for withdrawing the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification and job order is located in the 
section of the rule where an employer at that stage of the labor 
certification process would look for such a provision. Accordingly, the 
NPRM proposed revisions to move the withdrawal provisions at Sec.  
655.172(b) of the 2010 H-2A Final Rule to this new section, and to 
clarify the timeframe and procedures by which an employer may request 
withdrawal. The Department received a few comments on this provision, 
none of which necessitated substantive changes to the regulatory text. 
Therefore, as discussed below, this provision remains unchanged from 
the NPRM.
    The Department proposed to move the content of Sec.  655.172(b) of 
the 2010 H-2A Final Rule to a new provision at Sec.  655.136 located in 
the ``Application for Temporary Employment Certification Filing 
Procedures'' portion of the regulation, which begins at Sec.  655.130. 
As a result of this relocation, the withdrawal provisions relating to 
an Application for Temporary Employment Certification that is in 
process at the



NPC and the associated job order would be located in a section of the 
rule where the regulated community would be more readily able to locate 
and understand the actions required for withdrawal at that stage of 
processing.
    In addition, the Department proposed to remove language limiting 
withdrawal to the period after formal acceptance and expand this period 
to any time before the CO makes a final determination. This revision 
would allow employers to notify the NPC at any time after submitting an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification of their desire to 
end processing of the application and job order. Finally, the 
Department proposed under Sec.  655.136(b) to clarify that employers 
must submit withdrawal requests in writing to the NPC, identifying the 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification and job order to be 
withdrawn and stating the reason(s) for requesting withdrawal; however, 
the Department did not change the employer's obligations to workers 
recruited in connection with the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification and associated job order, as these obligations attach at 
recruitment and continue after withdrawal.
    The Department received no comments objecting to the proposed 
reorganization of the job order withdrawal provision from Sec.  
655.172(b) to Sec.  655.136. One trade association supported a proposal 
to permit withdrawal any time after submission and up to the point of 
the CO's final determination. Two commenters objected to requiring 
employers to comply with their obligations under the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification and related job order after 
withdrawal, apparently without regard to the timing of withdrawal. 
Consistent with discussion in the preamble for Sec.  655.124, these 
comments objecting to an employer's continuing obligations after 
withdrawal are outside of the scope of the proposed change at Sec.  
655.136. The Department's proposal was limited only to reorganizing the 
existing withdrawal provision from Sec.  655.172(b) to Sec.  655.136 
and minor clarifying edits, such as adding ``and job order'' to the 
statement of the employer's continuing obligation to comply with the 
terms and conditions of employment after withdrawal with respect to all 
workers recruited in connection with that Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification, which includes the related job order. 
Accordingly, the Department is adopting Sec.  655.136, as proposed, 
without change.

D. Processing of Applications for Temporary Employment Certification

1. Section 655.140, Review of Applications
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to conform 
existing procedures to other proposed changes, such as changes 
involving electronic filing and expansion of the first actions 
available to the CO after initial review of the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification, job order, and any supplementary 
documentation necessary to issuance of a Final Determination. The 
Department received a few comments on this provision. After reviewing 
these comments, the Department has decided to adopt this provision as 
proposed in the NPRM, although first actions available to the CO will 
not include certification, as a result of the Department's decision not 
to adopt the pre-filing positive recruitment proposal at Sec.  655.123, 
as discussed below.
    In paragraph (a), the Department proposed to expand the first 
actions available to the CO after initial review of the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification, job order, and any necessary 
supplementary documentation for compliance with all requirements under 
the subpart. In addition to the two first action options available to 
the CO under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule (i.e., issuance of a NOA under 
Sec.  655.143, if the application meets acceptance requirements, or 
issuance of a NOD under Sec.  655.141, if the application contained 
deficiencies), the Department proposed that the CO could issue a Final 
Determination under Sec.  655.160 as the first action. As explained in 
the NPRM, in combination with the pre-filing positive recruitment 
proposal at Sec.  655.123, the proposed revision to Sec.  655.140(a) 
would permit the CO to either certify or deny an Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification as the first action. The CO could 
issue a temporary agricultural labor certification as the first action 
if the employer satisfied all criteria for certification at the time of 
the CO's initial review, which could be possible for an employer who 
engaged in the proposed pre-filing recruitment option at Sec.  655.123. 
Or, the CO could issue a denial as the first action if an application 
was incurably deficient at the time of filing, such as an application 
filed by a debarred employer.
    The Department received a comment from a trade association that 
expressed support for the proposal, stating the ability to issue a 
Final Determination would expedite the application process in certain 
situations. An employer made a general comment expressing concern about 
the Department's requirement that employers cure deficiencies through 
the NOD process before the CO accepts an application for further 
processing, asserting that inconsistent identification of deficiencies 
could create processing delays for some applications. The Department 
appreciates the commenter's concern; however, the Department did not 
propose to change the criteria for the CO's decision to issue a NOD. 
The CO makes every effort to identify and address deficiencies 
consistently across applications and cannot accept an application for 
further processing and recruitment until all deficiencies related to 
effective recruitment of U.S. workers are resolved. The Department 
intended to expand the range of actions available to a CO by adding the 
option to issue a Final Determination under Sec.  655.160 as the first 
action; the criteria for the CO's decision to issue a NOD remains 
unchanged.
    This final rule adopts proposed paragraph (a) without change. 
Although the Department's decision not to adopt optional pre-filing 
recruitment removes certification as a possible first action, a Final 
Determination remains an available option for the CO's first action 
because the CO may deny an Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification as the first action if the application is incurably 
deficient. Alternatively, the CO may issue a NOD that provides the 
employer with an opportunity to cure deficiencies in the application or 
a NOA that accepts the application for further processing and 
recruitment.
    The Department also proposed minor revisions to paragraph (b) 
explicitly addressing electronic communication, both to permit the CO 
to send electronic notices and requests to the employer and to permit 
the employer to send electronic responses to these notices and 
requests. The Department proposed to retain the option to use 
traditional methods that ensure next-day delivery because these methods 
will remain necessary in limited cases, such as when the employer is 
unable to file or communicate electronically. The same trade 
association expressed support for this proposed revision, stating that 
electronic submissions are more efficient. Therefore, this final rule 
adopts proposed paragraph (b) without change.
2. Section 655.141, Notice of Deficiency
    The NPRM proposed amendments to this section to remove the option 
for employers to request expedited administrative review or a de novo



hearing of a NOD, and to clarify that an employer may submit a modified 
job order in response to a NOD and may appeal a denial issued by the CO 
of a modified application. The Department received some comments on 
this provision. After carefully reviewing these comments, the 
Department has decided not to make any changes to the proposed 
regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed below, this provision remains 
unchanged from the NPRM.
    The Department proposed removing language from paragraph (b) to 
conform to the language of the INA, which requires expedited 
administrative review, or a de novo hearing at the employer's request, 
only for a denial of certification or a revocation of such 
certification. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(e)(1). Because a NOD is not a denial 
or revocation of certification and is, instead, an opportunity for 
employers to provide information or cure deficiencies before the CO 
makes a final determination, the Department's proposal better aligns 
with the statutory requirements under the INA. 84 FR 36168, 36209.
    Some commenters expressed general opposition to the proposed 
changes to paragraph (b) without further explanation. A commenter 
stated the proposal would complicate the program and make it more 
costly but did not explain why this would be the case. The Department 
disagrees with these assertions. As noted below, the Department 
believes that this change will simplify and streamline the temporary 
agricultural labor certification process. One commenter mistakenly 
believed the Department had justified this proposal on the basis of 
consistency with the H-2B program, but this was not a stated reason for 
the proposal. Other commenters believed they would not be able to fix 
errors in their filings or alert the CO to an addendum mistakenly not 
included in their original filing without the ability to appeal a NOD. 
However, the ability to appeal a NOD to BALCA is not required to 
address these issues. The employer can instead respond to the NOD with 
the necessary modification(s), correction(s), or omitted document(s). 
Specifically, under Sec.  655.141, the employer retains the opportunity 
to respond to the NOD with additional information or documentation, 
including an amended job order, to address the identified deficiency or 
deficiencies in its application.
    Another set of commenters claimed removing the option to appeal a 
NOD to BALCA could delay the temporary agricultural labor certification 
process. Many commenters did not explain why they believed that delays 
would occur as a result of the Department's proposed change. Two 
employers, however, provided more specific information. One employer 
stated the failure to include a document listing their proposed 
worksites as an attachment to a prior application delayed the arrival 
of their workers under the Department's subsequent certification. The 
other employer noted that their agent quickly resolved previous NODs 
and asserted that losing the ability to request NOD review would slow 
the process because they would have to produce a ``new and amended'' 
job order. Neither commenter explained how the ability to appeal a NOD 
to BALCA would prevent delay, especially when the opportunity to 
correct deficient applications continues to be available pursuant to 
Sec.  655.141 and employers still must produce documentation, such as 
job orders, that meet all regulatory requirements.
    Some commenters stated they would be unable to expeditiously defend 
their application when a NOD is issued and would have to comply with 
the NOD or wait to appeal after a denial, risking extra expenses or a 
potential delay in worker arrivals. One of these commenters suggested 
the ability to appeal both NODs and denials is a more efficient use of 
the employer's and the Department's time. However, employers do not 
need to appeal a NOD in order to submit additional documents or 
otherwise address the identified deficiencies. As explained above, 
employers can provide these documents in their response to the NOD. In 
fact, the Department anticipates that the changes in this final rule 
will expedite resolution of the majority of applications and decrease 
expenses by providing one clear, singular route for resolving 
information and documentation issues that prevent acceptance and 
certification of Applications for Temporary Employment Certification or 
job orders. Based on OFLC's experience administering the H-2A program, 
the appeal of a NOD to BALCA tends to add more time to case processing 
than a CO's efforts to resolve remaining issues in a NOD response 
through mechanisms such as subsequent NODs or other communication that 
this final rule explicitly authorizes in Sec.  655.142(a). Under this 
final rule, the Department preserves the enhanced need for timeliness 
in agriculture by simplifying the steps in the adjudication of H-2A 
applications. Rather than allowing an appeal of a NOD to BALCA, which, 
even if successful, could lead to subsequent NODs, appeal of those 
NODs, and then a CO's denial and an appeal of that denial (i.e., 
separate appeals of multiple issues), this final rule consolidates 
consideration of remaining issues or deficiencies into one appeal of 
the CO's determination. Notably, as explained in the NPRM, this 
approach provides the CO and employer more opportunities to resolve 
deficiencies that prevent acceptance or certification of Applications 
for Temporary Employment Certification or job orders and better ensures 
that only those issues that the CO and employer cannot resolve are 
subject to appeal before BALCA. See 84 FR 36168, 36209. The appeal 
process continues to include an expedited administrative review 
procedure, or an expedited de novo hearing at the employer's request, 
of the denial in recognition of the INA's concern for prompt processing 
of H-2A applications.
    An agent stated no data were provided on the rate of certifications 
following appeals of NODs that underwent BALCA review and suggested 
these data be used to determine whether to adopt the proposal. OFLC 
does not produce data on this rate. Moreover, the Department does not 
believe these data would be instructive of whether to adopt its 
proposal. Regardless of whether an application receives a NOA after an 
appeal of a NOD or after resolution with the CO, the post-NOA 
requirements that must be met for certification, such as recruitment 
requirements, are the same. These post-NOA requirements for 
certification do not typically relate to the deficiencies that would be 
raised in a NOD, thus the rate at which an application is certified 
following the appeal of a NOD is irrelevant. Another commenter claimed 
that, based on the small number of BALCA decisions out of the total 
number of H-2A applications filed each year, the current process should 
be preserved. This comment is unclear because the figures provided by 
the commenter do not distinguish between appeals from a NOD versus 
appeals from a denial of an application. To the extent the commenter is 
asserting an appeal of a NOD should be preserved because of the limited 
number of BALCA rulings related to these appeals, there could be 
several reasons for this number that are unrelated to the ability to 
appeal a NOD, including that many employers receive a NOA in the first 
instance or choose to respond to the NOD instead of appealing.
    Some commenters suggested the change may eliminate an opportunity 
for dialogue between the Department and the employer prior to a final



determination. However, as explained above, the appeal of a NOD is not 
the only opportunity for the employer to engage in dialogue with the 
Department prior to a final determination. Employers have the option of 
responding to the NOD and working with the CO to resolve the 
deficiencies identified in the NOD. Several commenters believed the 
proposal would limit employers' due process or result in undesired 
outcomes due to errors by the agency. The Department believes the 
proposed change continues to guard against the latter because employers 
can still request review before an administrative tribunal of a CO's 
denial of an application. Employers also continue to decide whether 
they wish to seek review in the form of administrative review or a de 
novo hearing. In this way, the proposed change retains the due process 
protections afforded employers under sec. 218(e)(1) of the INA and 
better conforms with these statutory requirements. See 8 U.S.C. 
1188(e)(1) (noting the regulations must provide for expedited 
administrative review, or, at the employer's request, a de novo 
hearing, of a denial of certification or a revocation of such 
certification). And, as is the case now, employers may appeal this 
administrative decision or seek other appropriate relief in Federal 
court.
    An agent suggested that, in cases where the CO believes the 
employer will likely agree to the modification requirements, the NOD 
should provide the employer the option to accept the proposed changes 
by checking a box in iCERT or its successor (FLAG) instead of filing a 
formal NOD response. While there are circumstances when OFLC may 
address certain minor issues without the issuance of a formal NOD and 
response, the Department declines to adopt the agent's suggestion to 
create this separate procedure for two reasons. First, it would 
necessitate judgment calls on whether the employer is likely to consent 
to the required modifications. Second, the Department's electronic 
filing system is designed to prevent submission of obviously deficient, 
incomplete applications, which should reduce the need for the CO to 
issue nonsubstantive NODs.\104\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \104\ See 84 FR 36168, 36198 (noting OFLC's technology system 
will not permit electronic submissions where required fields and 
documentation have not been completed or uploaded and saved).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The NPRM also proposed adding language to Sec.  655.141(b)(3) to 
clarify that the employer may submit a modified job order in response 
to a NOD. This proposal conforms paragraph (b)(3) with other paragraphs 
in Sec.  655.141, which allow the CO to issue a NOD for job order 
deficiencies and provide the employer an opportunity to submit a 
modified job order to cure these deficiencies. A commenter suggested 
that where the CO is unable to make a determination at least 30 days 
before an employer's date of need, paragraph (b)(3) should include 
language requiring the Department to notify the employer or agent of 
the reason. However, this comment is beyond the scope of the 
Department's proposal and cannot be implemented through this 
rulemaking. Because no commenter raised issues with the proposed 
language in paragraph (b)(3), the Department adopts this paragraph 
without change.
    Lastly, the NPRM proposed to remove language in Sec.  655.141(b)(5) 
that purports to prohibit the employer from appealing the denial of a 
modified application.\105\ This clarification aligns Sec.  655.141 with 
Sec.  655.142(c), which permits the appeal from a denial of a modified 
application. The Department received two comments, both supporting the 
proposal. This final rule therefore adopts paragraph (b)(5) as 
proposed.
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    \105\ The purpose of Sec.  655.141(b)(5) in the current 
regulations is to address situations where the employer fails to 
respond to the NOD or appeal and, accordingly, ``abandons'' the 
application. The Department has retained the relevant language in 
what will now be Sec.  655.141(b)(4): ``if the employer does not 
comply with the requirements of Sec.  655.142, the CO will deny the 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification.'' 84 FR 36168, 
36276.
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3. Section 655.142, Submission of Modified Applications
    The NPRM proposed to amend this section to clarify the standards 
and procedures that govern the employer's submission of a modified 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification or job order. The 
Department received one comment on this provision; after reviewing this 
comment, the Department has decided not to make any changes to the 
regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed below, this provision remains 
unchanged from the NPRM.
    The provisions in this section govern the employer's response to a 
NOD issued pursuant to Sec.  655.141. The Department proposed revisions 
to paragraph (a) to clarify that an employer may submit a modified job 
order in response to a NOD, not only a modified Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification. This change conforms this section 
to the provisions at Sec.  655.141 that permit the CO to issue a NOD 
for Application for Temporary Employment Certification and/or job order 
deficiencies. In addition, the Department proposed to revise paragraph 
(a) to explicitly authorize the CO to issue multiple NODs, if 
necessary, to provide the CO with additional flexibility to resolve 
deficiencies that would otherwise prevent acceptance of an Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification and job order.\106\ For example, 
this may be necessary if the CO discovers a deficiency while reviewing 
submissions by the employer, such as an employer's response to a NOD 
that raises other issues that require the CO to request additional 
modifications.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \106\ The Department also explained that this revision mirrors 
language included at Sec.  655.32(a) of the 2015 H-2B IFR. See 80 FR 
24042, 24122.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In paragraph (b), the Department proposed clarifying revisions to 
explain the circumstances under which the CO will deny an Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification after reviewing an employer's 
NOD response(s). If the modified Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification or job order does not cure the deficiencies the CO 
identified or otherwise fails to satisfy the criteria required for 
certification, the CO will issue a denial following the procedure 
outlined in Sec.  655.164.
    Otherwise, the Department retained without change the provisions in 
paragraph (a) that allowed the CO to postpone issuing a final 
determination for 1 calendar day (up to a maximum of 5 calendar days) 
for each day an employer fails to submit a timely response to a NOD 
and, if the employer fails to submit a response within 12 calendar days 
after the NOD was issued, to deem the Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification abandoned. The Department also retained 
without change the provisions in paragraph (c) describing the 
opportunity to appeal the CO's denial of a modified Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification.
    The Department did not receive comments opposed to the proposed 
changes in this section. One trade association expressed support for 
the changes, stating that they would reduce the burden on employers to 
resolve problems with the job order and would expedite application 
processing once problems are resolved. Therefore, the Department has 
adopted Sec.  655.142 as proposed, without change.
4. Section 655.143, Notice of Acceptance
    The NPRM proposed to amend this section to clarify current policy 
and ensure the NOA content requirements and timeline for issuance 
conforms to



other changed proposed in the NPRM, such as labor supply State 
determinations and requiring the CO to transmit the job order to the 
SWAs for interstate circulation. The Department received some comments 
on the changes proposed to this provision. As discussed below, in this 
final rule, the Department has made additional revisions to further 
clarify the NOA content requirements and conform this section both to 
regulatory changes adopted in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule and 
the Department's decision not to adopt the pre-filing positive 
recruitment options proposed at Sec.  655.123.
    The Department proposed no substantive changes to the notification 
timeline in paragraph (a). The proposed regulatory language included a 
technical revision to remove ``are complete and'' for clarity and to 
conform the language with the Department's proposal in paragraph (b) to 
codify the current practice under which the CO issues a NOA when an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification and job order is 
complete and compliant for recruitment purposes, even though 
requirements for certification that are unrelated to recruitment (e.g., 
final housing approval) may not have been completed yet. In addition, 
the Department proposed to revise the list of NOA content requirements 
to conform to other proposed changes in the NPRM. After considering 
comments on the Department's proposals, and to conform this section to 
changes made through the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, the 
Department has retained paragraph (a) without change but further 
revised paragraph (b) of this section, as discussed below.
    To avoid making unnecessary changes from the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 
the Department has further reorganized the content of paragraph (b). 
Paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) now correspond to topics addressed in 
those paragraphs in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule: paragraph (b)(1) 
addresses interstate clearance of the job order, with revisions to 
conform with the NPC's electronic transmission of the job order to the 
SWAs; paragraph (b)(2) addresses the employer's positive recruitment 
and recruitment report obligations, with revisions to conform with the 
Department's decisions discussed in Sec. Sec.  655.123 and 655.154 of 
this preamble (i.e., not to adopt the proposed optional positive pre-
filing recruitment provision and to require the NOA to provide 
instructions to the employer regarding additional positive recruitment 
requirements, if any, and related documentation retention requirements) 
and changes implemented through the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule; 
and paragraph (b)(3) addresses the positive recruitment period, with a 
proposed technical revision to cite to Sec.  655.158 rather than repeat 
its content. In addition, the Department has redesignated the remaining 
paragraphs listed under paragraph (b). Paragraph (b)(4), which appeared 
as paragraph (b)(3) in the NPRM, requires the NOA to list outstanding 
documents and assurances required for certification. Paragraph (b)(5), 
which appeared as proposed paragraph (b)(4) in the NPRM, requires the 
NOA to notify the employer of the timeline for the CO's final 
determination and adopts the proposed allowance for the CO to hold 
final determination inside the 30 days before the employer's start date 
if the application is not certifiable by the 30-day mark but is 
expected to be certified before the employer's first date of need.
    Finally, this final rule adds a new paragraph (b)(6) to accommodate 
a new provision added by the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule at 
paragraph (b)(5), effective October 21, 2019. Under paragraph (b)(6), 
the NOA will direct the SWA to provide written notice of the job 
opportunity to organizations that provide employment and training 
services to workers likely to apply for the job and/or to place written 
notice of the job opportunity in other physical locations where such 
workers are likely to gather, when appropriate to the job opportunity 
and AIE.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization expressed concern about the 
CO issuing a NOA where the employer's application is complete and 
compliant for recruitment purposes but the employer has not submitted 
all documentation required for certification. The Department believes 
the commenter may have misunderstood the provision and thought the CO's 
issuance of a NOA in such circumstances would result in a temporary 
agricultural labor certification despite the employer's failure to 
submit all required documentation. In fact, what was proposed is 
effectively how the current process works. The CO's issuance of a NOA 
does not guarantee the employer will receive labor certification and 
does not absolve the employer of any recruitment requirements or 
documentation requirements in these cases. However, issuance of a NOA 
allows positive recruitment of U.S. workers to begin as early as 
possible--as soon as the application is complete and compliant for 
recruitment purposes. For example, positive recruitment may begin while 
the employer is making a housing repair the SWA identified during 
inspection. The employer can only receive certification after it has 
submitted all documentation and assurances necessary for certification, 
including the SWA's housing certification. Therefore, in this final 
rule, paragraph (b)(4) allows the CO to issue a NOA listing any 
documentation or assurances that the CO has not yet received and 
without which certification will not be issued.
    An employer and a trade association generally supported the 
Department's proposal to include an allowance for the CO not to issue a 
final determination 30 days before the employer's first date of need 
under one additional circumstance--when an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification does not meet the requirements for 
certification on the 30th day before the first date of need but is 
expected to meet such requirements before the first date of need. The 
commenters asked the Department to clearly indicate this exception is 
limited to circumstances where CO must place a hold on an application 
that otherwise would be denied in order to afford the employer 
additional time to satisfy certification requirements. The Department 
appreciates the comment, which reflects the Department's intent as 
discussed in the NPRM, but does not believe it is necessary to revise 
this section further. The proposed language, which is adopted in this 
final rule at paragraph (b)(5), clearly limits the CO's authority to 
issue a Final Determination within 30 days of an employer's first date 
of need to the two scenarios specified: an employer's untimely 
modification under Sec.  655.142 and when the CO holds an application 
that cannot be certified at the 30-day mark but is expected to be 
certifiable before the employer's first date of need.
5. Section 655.144, Electronic Job Registry
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to ensure the 
standards and procedures for posting the approved job order on the 
electronic job registry conforms with other changes proposed in the 
NPRM and is consistent with the Department's current practices. The 
Department received a few comments on this provision; after reviewing 
these comments, the Department has decided not to make any substantive 
changes to the regulatory text proposed in the NPRM. Therefore, as 
discussed below, the Department is adopting this provision as proposed 
in the NPRM.
    In paragraph (a), the Department is deleting an obsolete sentence 
that stated job orders would be posted on the



electronic job registry after the Department initiated operation of the 
electronic job registry; as the electronic job registry is now fully 
operational, this sentence is no longer necessary. The Department is 
making two minor revisions to paragraph (b). First, rather than 
retaining both a detailed description of the period during which a job 
order will be posted on the electronic job registry and a reference to 
the regulatory provision where the primary description of that 
recruitment period is found (Sec.  655.135(d)), the Department is 
retaining only the reference to Sec.  655.135(d). This approach is 
consistent with other similar revisions to simplify the regulation as a 
whole. Second, the Department proposed to add the phrase ``in active 
status'' to clarify job orders must remain in active status on the 
electronic job registry until the end of the recruitment period set 
forth in Sec.  655.135(d). As discussed in the preamble to the NPRM as 
well as in the preamble to the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, after 
the job order has served as an electronic recruitment tool on the 
electronic job registry during the recruitment period at Sec.  
655.135(d), the job order's status on the electronic job registry will 
change to ``inactive'' so that the information on the job order will 
still be available for public research and access. See 84 FR 36168, 
36210; 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, 84 FR 49439, 49444.
    The Department received two comments on this section regarding the 
collection and public availability of information related to H-2A job 
opportunities. A State government agency suggested the Department 
leverage the electronic job registry to collect additional demographic 
information, including the work location of foreign workers and the 
concentration of certified applications and workers. A workers' rights 
advocacy organization urged the Department to expand and enhance 
publicly available information for a variety of purposes, including 
increasing transparency and effective monitoring and enforcement. The 
commenter asked the Department to make all job and employer 
information, across all forms and in supporting documentation, publicly 
available and accessible, in particular, to potential workers and their 
advocates. The commenter expressed concern about the speed with which 
the Department would post job orders to the electronic job registry and 
potential difficulties with public access to older job orders, in 
particular, as the result of the Department's transition between 
electronic systems.
    The Department agrees it is important to collect H-2A program 
information and make it available to the public, which it currently 
accomplishes through the Disclosure Data section of the OFLC website. 
The Department will continue to collect detailed program information, 
including information about work locations and certification statistics 
sortable by occupation, and publish this information on the OFLC 
website. In early 2020, the Department significantly expanded the scope 
of labor certification decision data available to the public through 
the Disclosure Data section of the OFLC website. However, the 
Department declines to collect additional demographic information 
beyond that already required for program purposes because the labor 
certification stage of the immigration process involves the prospective 
recruitment of unnamed U.S. or foreign workers by an employer for often 
large numbers of job vacancies. Further, the intended use of the 
information published on the Department's electronic job registry 
differs from the intended use of OFLC's Disclosure Data. The electronic 
job registry is a recruitment tool designed for broad dissemination of 
available temporary or seasonal job opportunities to U.S. workers. As 
such, the electronic job registry provides information for job seekers, 
including work locations, duties to be performed, qualifications 
required, and dates of employment.
    As of December 27, 2019, the Department has transitioned the 
electronic job registry to a new web-based platform, 
SeasonalJobs.dol.gov. SeasonalJobs.dol.gov is a mobile-friendly online 
portal that leverages the latest technologies to automate the 
electronic advertising of H-2A job opportunities and ensures copies of 
H-2A job orders are promptly available for public examination. The 
portal is designed to help U.S. workers identify and apply for open 
seasonal and temporary job opportunities using robust and personalized 
search capabilities. In addition, the portal makes it easier to 
integrate employment postings with third-party job search websites to 
make the posted job order information more accessible to job seekers. 
As a publicly available resource, any interested party may search and 
review posted job opportunities.
6. Section 655.145, Amendments to Applications for Temporary Labor 
Certification
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section that contains 
the standards and procedures by which an employer may submit a written 
request to the CO to amend its Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification in order to increase the number of workers or make minor 
changes to the period of employment. Specifically, paragraph (b) 
contained technical corrections to replace references to the terms 
``job site'' or ``place of work'' with the proposed term ``place of 
employment'' as defined under proposed revisions to Sec.  655.103. The 
Department received a few comments on this provision, none of which 
necessitated changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed 
below, this provision remains unchanged from the NPRM.
    The Department received a few comments that presented situations in 
which an employer might want to correct typographical errors or make 
other changes to its application to respond to changes in market 
conditions after submission. As discussed in the preamble for Sec.  
655.121(e)(2), allowing applicants to request corrections to 
applications without restrictions would run counter to the Department's 
efforts to modernize the temporary agricultural labor certification 
process. The 2010 H-2A Final Rule at Sec.  655.145, to which changes 
have not been proposed, allows an applicant to request amendments to 
increase the number of workers or to make minor changes to the period 
of employment, which could be due to changes in market conditions or 
for other reasons. In addition, an employer may request modifications 
to its job order under Sec.  655.121(e)(2) before submitting its 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification. Should an employer 
want to make changes to its application other than those permitted 
under these amendment provisions, the employer will need to file a new 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification to accommodate the 
changes needed. Depending on the circumstances, the new application may 
qualify as an emergency situation filing under Sec.  655.134, which 
allows for waiver of the normal filing timeframe requirements for 
reasons including ``good and substantial cause (which may include 
unforeseen changes in market conditions).''
    As for typographical errors, the Department reminds applicants to 
thoroughly review each application prior to submission, as they alone 
are responsible for ensuring an application is complete and accurate at 
the time of submission; the CO is not responsible for correcting an 
employer's typographical errors. While some typographical errors may 
not impact the



CO's final determination, if a typographical error creates a 
substantive issue that is apparent to the CO (e.g., an offered wage 
that is lower than required), the CO will issue a NOD requiring the 
employer to modify the application to address the deficiency. In 
situations where a typographical error mischaracterizes or 
misrepresents the job opportunity available in a way that does not 
create a regulatory deficiency that would trigger a NOD and the 
deficiency cannot be corrected during processing, the employer would be 
required to file a new Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification to accurately reflect the job opportunity for which it 
requests temporary labor certification to employ H-2A workers.

E. Post-Acceptance Requirements

1. Section 655.150, Interstate Clearance of Job Order
    The Department proposed to retain this section authorizing the 
interstate clearance of an employer's approved job order with three 
minor amendments to conform with changes proposed to other provisions 
in the NPRM. After considering the comments it received in connection 
with this provision, the Department has adopted as final the proposed 
revised Sec.  655.150 with one technical amendment, which is discussed 
below. Related comments, such as those regarding the NPC's role in 
transmitting job orders to SWAs and electronic transmission of those 
job orders, are addressed in the preamble discussion of Sec.  655.121. 
Similarly, comments regarding the Department's proposal to revise the 
recruitment period at Sec.  655.135(d) are addressed in the preamble 
discussion of Sec.  655.135(d), and comments regarding the Department's 
proposed process through which the OFLC Administrator will designate 
labor supply States or suggested additional changes to positive 
recruitment obligations are discussed in the preamble to Sec.  655.154.
    As established under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, after receiving the 
CO's NOA under Sec.  655.143, the SWA transmits the job order beyond 
the AIE and intrastate clearance, as directed in the NOA, at minimum, 
to all other States listed in the job order as anticipated worksites. 
Each SWA that receives the job order must keep the job order on its 
active file until the end of the recruitment period at Sec.  655.135(d) 
and refer each qualified U.S. worker who applied during that period to 
the employer.
    In the NPRM, the Department first proposed that the NPC, rather 
than the SWA, would transmit the employer's job order to each 
additional SWA under Sec.  655.150, consistent with the Department's 
proposed revisions to Sec.  655.121. Second, the Department proposed to 
add language specifying that the NPC will transmit the approved job 
order to each State that the OFLC Administrator designates as labor 
supply State(s), if applicable, consistent with the Department's 
proposal at Sec.  655.154(d). Finally, consistent with proposed 
revisions to other sections of the regulatory text, the Department 
proposed to simplify the language in paragraph Sec.  655.150(b) by 
including a citation to the recruitment period at Sec.  655.135(d), 
rather than restating the language in the regulatory text under this 
paragraph.
    Two State government commenters suggested that the Department 
require employers to input job order information into SWAs' online 
labor exchanges and/or other online recruitment tools, which they 
viewed as consistent with the Department's adoption of electronic 
filing and sensitive to State resources and system investments. One of 
these commenters further asked the Department to clarify that employer 
identity information is not suppressed (i.e., withheld) in H-2A job 
orders, unlike non-H-2A job orders subject to Sec.  653.501; the 
commenter thought such clarification would relieve SWAs of the task of 
manually entering that information in job order postings in the State 
labor exchange system.
    The Department is sensitive to SWA resource concerns, but the 
Department declines to impose a duplicative job order data entry 
requirement on employers. Such a requirement is inconsistent with the 
Department's goals stated in the NPRM to eliminate redundancies, reduce 
or avoid duplication of burden on employers, and ensure a single point 
of entry for employers to access the H-2A program. Under this final 
rule, the employer will enter the job order information into the 
Department's centralized electronic system, to which the SWAs have 
access and from which the SWAs can retrieve the entirety of the job 
order data--including employer identity information--for use in 
processing the job order and posting on their State labor exchange 
systems for intrastate clearance. To the extent these comments suggest 
the Department should require employers to conduct additional positive 
recruitment or post jobs electronically in SWA recruitment tools beyond 
the State labor exchange system, the Department respectfully declines 
to make any changes in response. The topic of employers' electronic 
advertising obligations was addressed in the Department's 2019 H-2A 
Recruitment Final Rule and is outside the scope of this rulemaking. As 
explained in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, the Department 
intended for the NPC's posting of the job order in the Department's 
enhanced electronic job registry system, as required under Sec.  
655.144, to facilitate broad electronic dissemination of the approved 
job opportunity. The electronic job registry system makes a standard 
set of job data available to third-party job search websites, which 
could include SWA online resources, allowing those job listing websites 
``to execute web-scraping protocols that extract new H-2A job 
opportunities from SeasonalJobs.dol.gov and index them for advertising 
to U.S. workers.'' 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, 84 FR 49439, 
49445.
    After consideration of these comments, the Department is adopting 
the proposed revisions to Sec.  655.150, with one correction. The 
Department decided to revise paragraph (a) in this final rule to retain 
the phrase ``at minimum'' from the 2010 H-2A Final Rule's paragraph 
(a). This phrase was inadvertently removed in the proposed paragraph. 
Reinserting this phrase is necessary to avoid an unintended and 
inappropriate gap in job order circulation. For example, a job 
opportunity may be located in an AIE that crosses State lines; however, 
all places of employment the employer listed are located in only one of 
the States in the AIE. To appropriately test the domestic labor market, 
the job order must be circulated to all SWAs with jurisdiction over the 
AIE, not only the one SWA with jurisdiction over the places of 
employment listed. Retaining ``at minimum'' provides clarity and the 
necessary flexibility for the NPC and SWAs to ensure appropriate 
recruitment through the labor exchange system and does so without added 
burden to the employer. As a result, under this final rule, ``at 
minimum,'' the CO will transmit the job order for interstate clearance 
to the SWA in each State listed in the job order as an anticipated 
place of employment and the SWA in each State designated by the OFLC 
Administrator as a State of traditional or expected labor supply for 
job opportunity under Sec.  655.154(d).
2. Section 655.153, Contact With Former U.S. Workers
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section containing the 
standards and procedures by which employers contact U.S. workers they 
employed in the occupation at the place of employment during the 
previous year to solicit their return to the job. See



2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6929. This obligation aims to ensure 
that these U.S. workers, who likely have an interest in these job 
opportunities, receive notice of the job opportunities. The obligation 
also aims to prevent the employer from effectively displacing qualified 
and available U.S. workers by seeking H-2A workers. An employer, 
however, need not contact those U.S. workers it dismissed for cause or 
those who abandoned the worksite. The Department received some comments 
on this provision, none of which necessitated substantive changes to 
the regulatory text from the NPRM. Therefore, this final rule retains 
this section from the NPRM without change.
    Section 655.153 requires an employer to contact, by mail or other 
effective means (e.g., phone or email), U.S. workers it employed in the 
occupation at the place of employment during the previous year to 
solicit their return to the job. See 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 
6929. This obligation aims to ensure that these U.S. workers, who 
likely have an interest in these job opportunities, receive notice of 
the job opportunities. It additionally aims to prevent the employer 
from effectively displacing qualified and available U.S. workers by 
seeking H-2A workers. An employer, however, need not contact those U.S. 
workers it dismissed for cause or those who abandoned the worksite.
    The Department proposed in the NPRM to add language to Sec.  
655.153 requiring an employer to provide the notice described in Sec.  
655.122(n) \107\ to the NPC with respect to a U.S. worker who abandoned 
employment or was terminated for cause in the previous year. The 
proposal also required an employer to provide the notice in a manner 
consistent with the NPC Federal Register notice issued under Sec.  
655.122(n).\108\ The Department intended the proposal to ensure that 
there would be virtually contemporaneous documentation to support an 
employer asserting that a U.S. worker abandoned employment or that it 
terminated the U.S. worker for cause. Under the proposal, the employer 
would have to contact former U.S. workers who abandoned employment or 
were terminated for cause if, while subject to H-2A program 
requirements, it failed to provide notice in the required manner.
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    \107\ Under Sec.  655.122(n), a worker's abandonment of 
employment or termination for cause relieves an employer of 
responsibility for subsequent transportation and subsistence costs 
and the obligation to meet the three-fourths guarantee for that 
worker, and, in the case of a U.S. worker, to contact that worker 
under Sec.  655.153, if the employer provides notice to the ETA NPC 
of the abandonment or termination. In the case of an H-2A worker, 
notification to DHS is also required pursuant to 8 CFR 
214.2(h)(5)(vi)(B)(1).
    \108\ See Notice, Information about the DOL Notification Process 
for Worker Abandonment, or Termination for Cause for H-2A Temporary 
Agricultural Labor Certifications, 76 FR 21041 (Apr. 14, 2011).
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    The Department may not certify an application unless the 
prospective employer has engaged in positive recruitment efforts of 
able, willing, and qualified U.S. workers available to perform the 
work. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(b)(4). The prospective employer's positive 
recruitment obligation is distinct from, and in addition to, its 
obligation to circulate the job through the SWA system. Id. E.O. 13788 
requires the Department, consistent with applicable law, to protect the 
economic interests of U.S. workers. See 82 FR 18837 (Apr. 21, 2017), 
secs. 2(b) and 5. The requirement to notify the Department of 
abandonment and termination for cause protects the interests of able, 
willing, and qualified U.S. workers who might be available to perform 
the agricultural work, consistent with the INA. In addition, the notice 
could assist growers in the event U.S. workers who have abandoned 
employment or been terminated for cause later assert the employer 
failed to contact them as required by Sec.  655.153.
    As the Department provided in the NPRM, the notice obligation 
should not increase the existing regulatory burden. Section 655.122(n) 
currently permits an employer to avoid the responsibility to satisfy 
the three-fourths guarantee as well as its return transportation and 
subsistence payment obligations when a U.S. worker voluntarily abandons 
employment or the employer terminates the worker for cause if the 
employer notifies the NPC not later than 2 working days after the 
abandonment or termination. Employers already have a strong financial 
incentive to submit this notice to avoid responsibility for the three-
fourths guarantee and return transportation and subsistence costs. The 
requirement to submit the notice to avoid Sec.  655.153's contact 
obligation is thus unlikely to change the current regulatory burden on 
employers.
    As noted above, Sec.  655.153 currently permits employers to 
contact U.S. workers by mail or other effective means. In the NPRM, the 
Department reaffirmed that phone and email contact continue to be 
effective means to contact U.S. workers. The Department received no 
comments that suggested that permitting employers to contact U.S. 
workers by phone or email would be inconsistent with program 
requirements or undermine the interests of U.S. workers. Thus, the 
Department again reaffirms that contact by phone or email is 
permissible.
    In the NPRM, the Department observed that employers that are new to 
the program have employed U.S. workers in the occupation at the place 
of employment during the previous year. Further, there may be instances 
in which a regular user of the H-2A program might employ U.S. workers 
in the pertinent occupation at the place of employment to provide 
agricultural services and use the H-2A program again in the succeeding 
year.
    The NPRM clarified that in each of these instances, Sec.  655.153 
requires these employers to contact the U.S. workers employed in the 
previous year. This obligation applies to entities that employed U.S. 
workers in the previous year under the common law definition of 
employer incorporated in Sec.  655.103(b). The NPRM included the 
following example to demonstrate an instance in which a grower that 
employed U.S. workers under the common law in the previous year would 
assume an obligation to contact those U.S. workers under Sec.  655.153 
in the current year. Assume a grower used FLCs to provide U.S. workers 
during the previous year and then applied to employ H-2A workers in the 
following year. If the grower employed the U.S. workers under the 
common law of agency as a joint employer with a FLC in the previous 
year, then Sec.  655.153 would require the employer to contact those 
U.S. workers in the following year.
    The Department received numerous comments concerning this 
clarification, particularly related to a possible employer's obligation 
to contact workers that an H-2ALC or FLC employed in the previous year. 
Multiple institutional commenters, as well as individual commenters, 
opposed the application of Sec.  655.153's contact obligation to U.S. 
workers an H-2ALC or FLC employed in the previous year. It appears, 
however, that these commenters misunderstood the scope of the 
Department's clarification. These commenters thought the clarification 
included an obligation to contact the U.S. workers who an H-2ALC or FLC 
employed at a grower's worksite in the previous year even when the 
grower did not (jointly) employ such U.S. workers under the common law 
definition of employer. The Department hereby reaffirms, consistent 
with the language of the existing regulation and the preamble in the 
NPRM, that its proposal in the NPRM did not require U.S. worker contact 
when the grower had no employment relationship under the common law 
definition of employer



with the U.S. worker in the previous year. Thus, if the H-2ALC or FLC 
with whom the grower contracted in the previous year was the only 
employer of the U.S. workers that worked at the grower's farm, the 
grower has no contact obligation under Sec.  655.153 in the subsequent 
year. The Department's proposal merely clarified that when the grower 
jointly employed the U.S. workers in the previous year, it must contact 
those U.S. workers it jointly employed.
    These commenters also contended that the contracts between growers 
and H-2ALCs/FLCs regularly contain provisions prohibiting growers from 
``poaching'' the labor contractors' workers. They accordingly submitted 
that the clarification will disrupt the parties' contractual relations. 
One commenter submitted that farmers ``will increasingly be unable to 
find FLCs willing to work for them because the [FLC] will want to avoid 
having his workers poached by his clients,'' and that growers will not 
use labor contractors because ``they will be concerned about breach of 
contract liability resulting from their required attempts to poach the 
[FLCs'] employees.'' Another commenter remarked that the proposed 
requirement should be clarified such that contact with former workers 
must only occur in situations when a written agreement exists between a 
farmer and a contractor that specifies joint employment status, to 
avoid the perception of ``poaching.''
    A few commenters that opposed the clarification appear to evince a 
clearer understanding that its scope only includes growers that 
employed U.S. workers in the previous year. A joint comment contended 
that the clarification ``appears to be the first instance'' in which 
the Department is applying Sec.  655.153 to workers employed by labor 
contractors. The commenters interpreted the provision to apply only to 
``former [workers]'' and not to ``joint [workers employed by] the H-2A 
applicant and [FLCs]. If the Agency intended for joint employees to be 
contacted, it would have included specific language identifying joint 
[workers] within the regulation'' (emphasis in original). Another 
comment provided that Sec.  655.153 does not reference workers employed 
jointly by a grower and FLC, adding that the clarification would 
``require applicants to do more than is required by statute and 
regulations.''
    Similar to the other commenters, the joint comment also explained 
that the proposal would seriously disrupt the relationship between 
growers and FLCs, particularly the requirement that growers seek, in 
the joint comment's words, to ``steal'' labor contractors' workers.
    Finally, one commenter reiterated the concerns of the commenters 
described above, adding that application of the proposal is likely to 
result in labor contractors relying more frequently on H-2A workers 
rather than U.S. workers. The commenter also proposed ``at a minimum'' 
that the regulatory language be ``revise[d] . . . to state explicitly 
that the obligation to contact former employees only extends to the 
employer's own employees, not the employees of an FLC utilized by the 
employer, unless the FLC operates as a joint employer with the 
employer.''
    This commenter's description captures precisely what the Department 
proposed in the NPRM. An employer's obligation to contact U.S. workers 
employed in the previous year extends solely to U.S. workers the 
employer itself employed in the previous year. Thus, if the employer 
jointly employed the U.S. workers on its farm in the same occupation 
with an FLC in the previous year, then Sec.  655.153, as currently 
written, requires the employer to contact the U.S workers. However, the 
contact obligation does not apply to U.S. workers an FLC alone employed 
in the previous year, using the common law definition of employer, even 
if the FLC employed the U.S. workers to perform services on the 
grower's farm. The Department does not believe, as a commenter has 
suggested, that it is necessary to add language to Sec.  655.153 
specifying that an employer must contact U.S. workers it jointly 
employed in the previous year. An entity that jointly employs workers 
is the ``employer'' of such workers. The current language of Sec.  
655.153 accordingly compels an H-2A employer that jointly employed U.S. 
workers in the occupation at the place of employment in the previous 
year to contact such workers.
    The Department is therefore not adopting the broader request of 
some commenters to exempt entirely an employer from Sec.  655.153's 
contact obligation when the employer jointly employed the pertinent 
U.S. workers with an FLC/H-2ALC in the previous year. Adoption of the 
commenters' request would be inconsistent with the current language of 
Sec.  655.153, which ensures that a prospective H-2A employer must 
contact all U.S. workers it employed in the job in the previous year 
before hiring H-2A workers to perform such work in the current year. 
Requiring employers to contact their own U.S. workers effectuates the 
statutory obligation of prospective H-2A employers to engage in 
``positive recruitment efforts'' for qualified U.S. workers (8 U.S.C. 
1188(b)(4)), provides job opportunities to specific U.S. workers who 
have recently performed the job at the pertinent location for the 
employer, and helps fulfill the Department's obligation to certify an 
application only when there are not sufficient qualified workers to 
perform the agricultural work. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(a)(1)(A).
    As mentioned above, multiple commenters objected to the proposal 
based on the potential for interference with the contractual obligation 
growers have historically assumed to refrain from hiring workers 
employed by their FLCs/H-2ALCs. However, as noted below, this is not a 
new requirement and the Department's prior enforcement has not resulted 
in the kinds of problems envisioned by the commenters. This is likely 
because, as previously stated, the Department's clarification does not 
require prospective H-2A employers to contact workers the employers did 
not employ in the previous year. Moreover, Congress clearly intended to 
ensure prospective employers recruit qualified, available U.S workers 
to perform the work prior to the employment of H-2A workers. This 
clarification helps to fulfill that intent.
    The commenters that suggested that this is the first time the 
Department is seeking to hold a grower responsible to contact U.S. 
workers it jointly employed in the previous year with a labor 
contractor are incorrect. The Department has pursued this approach 
successfully in Federal litigation.\109\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \109\ See Scalia v. Munger Bros., Case No. 2:19-cv-02320 
(E.D.CA. Nov. 19, 2019) (Consent Judgment and Order in which 
Defendants agreed to ``contact and offer employment to all U.S. 
workers that worked for Defendants the previous year, including 
those hired through FLCs'').
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As the Department noted in the NPRM, in the event that the grower 
has not kept payroll records for such U.S. workers, the regulations 
implementing MSPA require FLCs to furnish the grower with a copy of all 
payroll records, including the workers' names and permanent addresses. 
Growers must maintain these records for 3 years. See 29 CFR 500.80(a) 
and (c). These records should provide the employer with contact 
information for the pertinent U.S. workers.
    The Department noted in the NPRM that it would not require 
employers that did not participate in the H-2A program in the previous 
year to provide the NPC the notice described in Sec.  655.122(n) (in 
order to avoid the obligation to contact U.S. workers the employer 
terminated



for cause in the previous year or who abandoned the employment in the 
previous year). The Department received no comments warranting the 
reversal of this position. The Department accordingly adopts it.
    Another commenter suggested that the threshold for determining 
abandonment based on failure to report should be a ``more reasonable'' 
3 days, not the ``excessive'' 5 days proposed, because 3 days is ``a 
standard in the agricultural industry'' and a longer period without a 
replacement worker could put perishable commodities at risk. The 
Department, however, did not propose and thus declines to make any 
change to its longstanding standard for determining whether a worker 
has abandoned employment.
    Finally, the proposed rule clarified that the employer's contact 
with former U.S. workers must occur during the positive recruitment 
period (i.e., while the employer's job order is circulating with the 
SWAs in the interstate clearance system and terminating on the date 
workers depart for the place of employment, as determined under Sec.  
655.158) by including a reference to Sec.  655.158. The Department 
received no comments warranting the reversal of this proposal. The 
Department accordingly adopts it.
3. Section 655.154, Additional Positive Recruitment
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed amendments to this section to 
clarify the standards and procedures by which the Department identifies 
States of traditional or expected labor supply for recruiting U.S. 
workers. The Department received some comments on this section, a few 
of which necessitated additional revisions in this final rule to 
clearly describe the traditional or expected labor supply State 
determination process and the recruitment required, both on the 
employer's behalf and through employer action, as well as a minor 
change to paragraph (a), consistent with changes to recruitment methods 
in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule that impacted this section. 
These revisions are discussed below.
    The INA requires employers to engage in positive recruitment of 
U.S. workers within a multi-State region of traditional or expected 
labor supply where the Secretary finds that there are a significant 
number of qualified U.S. workers who, if recruited, would be willing to 
make themselves available for work at the time and place needed. See 8 
U.S.C. 1188(b)(4). The Department satisfies this statutory requirement 
and the broader statutory obligation regarding U.S. worker availability 
through a combination of recruitment activities, including posting the 
job opportunity on an electronic job registry (Sec.  655.144), 
interstate clearance of the job order through the SWAs (Sec.  655.150), 
employer contact with former U.S. workers (Sec.  655.153), and 
additional positive recruitment (Sec.  655.154). The additional 
positive recruitment required of the employer under Sec.  655.154 is 
discrete from, but occurs concurrently with, the multi-State 
recruitment the Department and SWAs conduct on behalf of the employer 
(i.e., electronic recruitment under Sec.  655.144 and interstate 
employment service system recruitment under Sec.  655.150).
    At the NPRM stage of this rulemaking, the Department was separately 
engaged in rulemaking that sought to modernize positive recruitment 
requirements, which culminated in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule 
that became effective after the NPRM was published. That rulemaking 
addressed an employer's statutory requirement to engage in positive 
recruitment of U.S. workers, generally, and resulted in the rescission 
of Sec. Sec.  655.151 and 655.152, which involved print newspaper 
advertisements, and the enhancement of the Department's electronic job 
registry and related electronic recruitment on the employer's behalf. 
As explained in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, the Department 
determined that advertisement of the employer's job opportunity through 
the Department's electronic job registry under Sec.  655.144 will be 
sufficient, in most cases, to satisfy the employer's multi-State 
recruitment obligations under Sec.  655.154. However, in that 
rulemaking, the Department did not revise the additional positive 
recruitment obligations provision at Sec.  655.154 or propose to codify 
the underlying process for designating labor supply States where the 
job order must be circulated and, within designated labor supply 
States, areas in which additional employer-conducted positive 
recruitment would be appropriate for the CO to order, as a means of 
reaching qualified U.S. workers who would make themselves available for 
job opportunities like the employer's.
    The NPRM proposed amendments to this section to clarify the 
standards and procedures by which the Department identifies States of 
traditional or expected labor supply for recruiting U.S. workers. By 
proposing to add a new paragraph (d), the Department sought to provide 
more public transparency in the process for designating traditional or 
expected labor supply States and for determining whether and what 
additional positive recruitment should be required in those States as a 
condition of granting temporary agricultural labor certification. 
Specifically, the Department proposed to shift the responsibility for 
designating traditional or expected labor supply States and determining 
the particular methods of positive recruitment required within those 
States, if any, from the CO to the OFLC Administrator. Further, the 
OFLC Administrator would base traditional or expected labor supply 
State determinations primarily on information received from SWAs within 
the preceding 120 days and provide public notice by posting the 
determinations annually on OFLC's public website. In addition to 
providing more public transparency, advance notice of labor supply 
State designations provides greater predictability for employers in 
advance of receiving instructions from the CO in the NOA.
    Given both the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule's changes to 
positive recruitment requirements and the Department's consideration of 
comments submitted in response to the NPRM, the Department has further 
revised Sec.  655.154 in this final rule to clearly describe the 
traditional or expected labor supply State determination process and 
the recruitment required--both on the employer's behalf and through 
employer action--to ensure an adequate test of the domestic labor 
market for the job opportunity. For example, the Department removed 
redundant language in paragraph (a) that described the nature of 
traditional or expected labor supply States and added a reference in 
that paragraph to the labor supply State determination process 
provision at paragraph (d). The resulting language clarifies that an 
employer's positive recruitment obligations under Sec.  655.154 will be 
satisfied, in most cases, through the Department's broad dissemination 
of job information through the Department's electronic job registry. In 
addition, the Department revised paragraphs (c) and (d) to clarify the 
information included in the labor supply State determination that the 
OFLC Administrator will post on OFLC's website and its use. The 
Department has considered whether OFLC Administrator's annual 
determination should provide advance, public notice of additional 
positive recruitment requirements on OFLC's website, including 
instructions on the precise nature of the additional recruitment, in 
order to accommodate employers that chose to begin



recruitment prior to receiving the NOA under proposed Sec.  655.123. 
After careful consideration, this final rule provides that the OFLC 
Administrator's annual determination under revised paragraph (d) 
identifies both designated labor supply State(s) where the job order 
must be transmitted under Sec.  655.150(a) for interstate clearance and 
area(s) of labor supply within a designated State, if any, where an 
employer may be required to conduct additional positive recruitment to 
reach qualified U.S. workers who would make themselves available for 
the job opportunity. Consistent with the Department's decision not to 
adopt the proposed optional pre-filing recruitment provision, this 
final rule does not require the Administrator's annual determination to 
specify the precise nature of additional positive recruitment and the 
documentation or other supporting evidence that must be maintained by 
the employer. Instead, revised paragraph (c) of this final rule 
clarifies that the employer will receive instructions in the CO's NOA 
regarding any additional positive recruitment requirements applicable 
to its job opportunity, which conforms with revisions at Sec.  
655.143(b)(2) and is consistent with the process in the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule.
    Several commenters supported the proposal as a means of enhancing 
the transparency and consistency of traditional or expected labor 
supply State determinations. Other commenters expressed concern 
regarding particular aspects of the proposal, as discussed below. One 
commenter urged the Department to eliminate the traditional or expected 
labor supply State designation process and related recruitment 
requirements entirely or use the State determination approach in the 
2008 H-2A Final Rule. The Department appreciates the comments but is 
unable to eliminate a requirement that is mandated by statute. 
Regarding the comment to adopt the determination approach in the 2008 
H-2A Final Rule, the commenter did not fully explain their 
understanding of that labor supply State designation process and the 
reasoning for re-instituting those recruitment requirements; however, 
in the preamble to the 2008 H-2A Final Rule, the Department discussed 
requiring affirmative employer action in labor supply States only where 
the Department had made a factual determination that information it 
received justified a particular type of additional recruitment in a 
particular area. See 2008 H-2A Final Rule, 73 FR 77110, 77132. The 
Department believes the commenter's suggestion is addressed in this 
final rule, which requires affirmative action by the employer only 
where the OFLC Administrator identifies a particular area within a 
State based on specific, credible information about the availability of 
qualified U.S. workers and appropriate means of recruiting those 
workers. In addition, as discussed in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final 
Rule, ``[Sec.  ] 655.154 does not afford the CO unlimited discretion; 
rather, it authorizes the CO to order the recruitment necessary to 
ensure an adequate test of the domestic labor market for the employer's 
job opportunity, after taking into account the location and 
characteristics of the position.'' 84 FR 49439, 49450.
    Two workers' rights advocacy organizations noted that the 
Department's proposal placing the labor supply State determination 
process at paragraph (d) effectively replaced the Proof of Recruitment 
provision at Sec.  655.154(d) in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule and expressed 
concern the Department had not retained the Proof of Recruitment 
provision in a different location. The commenters believed removing 
this provision would hinder the Department's ability to enforce the H-
2A regulations because it would eliminate the CO's authority to specify 
the documentation or supporting evidence an employer must retain to 
prove compliance with the additional positive recruitment requirements. 
Although the document retention provision at Sec.  655.167 already 
requires employers to retain evidence of compliance with Sec.  655.154, 
the Department agrees with the commenters that the rule should address 
the type of evidence an employer is required to retain to show 
compliance with particular recruitment efforts required in designated 
traditional or expected labor supply States. The Department has 
determined that including such a provision provides greater clarity and 
predictability to employers, who want to properly document compliance, 
and facilitates its effective and consistent enforcement of this 
regulatory requirement. Therefore, the Department has revised paragraph 
Sec.  655.143(b)(2) in this final rule to provide that the CO's NOA 
will specify the documentation or other supporting evidence to be 
maintained by the employer to demonstrate compliance with positive 
recruitment requirements.
    One workers' rights advocacy organization expressed concern and 
opposed the proposed traditional or expected labor supply State 
designation process because it would diminish the role of the SWAs 
because assigning the responsibility of making these State 
determinations to the OFLC Administrator would allow the OFLC 
Administrator to consider information from sources other than the SWA. 
The commenter was also concerned the proposed regulatory language would 
reduce the period of labor market information considered from 6 months 
to 120 days, and also expressed the language was vague and did not 
specify the sources of information the OFLC Administrator may consider 
or the weight given to the information from sources other than the SWA.
    The Department believes the commenter's concerns are unwarranted. 
As is the case under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, the Department 
anticipates the SWAs will continue to be the primary source of 
information regarding traditional or expected labor supply States based 
on their knowledge and expertise in local labor markets. The proposed 
determination process was not intended to diminish the role of the SWAs 
or substantively change the nature of information upon which 
traditional or expected labor supply designations will be based. Under 
the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, the CO's determination is based primarily on 
information about labor supply trends and information regarding 
interstate referral activities observed by the SWAs. The Department 
intended to formalize the existing communication between SWAs and OFLC, 
while making the process more transparent and predictable to employers 
seeking to employ H-2A workers.
    In the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, the Department also explained that it 
continues to welcome information on labor supply from SWAs, employers, 
and workers' rights advocacy organizations to assist in its decisions 
on the best sources of labor and related recruitment activities to be 
required of employers. See 75 FR 6884, 6930; see also 2019 H-2A 
Recruitment Final Rule, 84 FR 49439, 49450 (explaining the Department 
most often obtains information from the SWAs, but ``continues . . . to 
invite stakeholders to submit information on areas of traditional or 
expected labor supply and effective means of recruiting U.S. workers in 
those areas''). The NPRM and this final rule merely reiterate the 
Department's longstanding policy to consider reliable information from 
appropriate sources that may be helpful in determining States of 
traditional or expected labor supply. Appropriate sources may include, 
for example, information from other State or Federal agencies or 
information the Department receives from other relevant stakeholders, 
such as organizations that



provide employment and training services to workers who are likely to 
apply for agricultural job opportunities. Similarly, the proposal in 
the NPRM stated the OFLC Administrator's determination would be based 
primarily upon information provided within 120 calendar days preceding 
the determination.
    The Department's decision to base traditional or expected labor 
supply State determinations primarily on information provided within 
120 calendar days preceding the determination reflects that although, 
based on the Department's experience, these designations have not 
changed significantly from year to year because the information the 
Department receives does not change significantly from year to year, 
the designations should be informed by the most current information 
available. Notably, this provision does not limit the collection of 
information to the 120-day period preceding the OFLC Administrator's 
determination. For example, information gathered over a 6- or 9-month 
period and submitted to the OFLC Administrator within the 120-day 
period before the OFLC Administrator's determination can reflect 
current labor market activities across a wide range of seasonal 
agricultural production cycles and appropriately inform the annual 
determination process. This process prioritizes current information, 
without excluding older information that is relevant to the 
determination.
    The Department anticipates the majority of the information 
published in the OFLC Administrator's annual determination will inform 
the CO's transmission of the job order for interstate clearance under 
Sec.  655.150, rather than impose additional employer-conducted 
recruitment requirements under Sec.  655.154. For example, if the 
Georgia SWA informs the OFLC Administrator that it receives interstate 
referrals, generally, from the Florida SWA, the OFLC Administrator 
would designate Florida as a labor supply State for Georgia in the 
labor supply State determination posted on OFLC's website; however, 
this information, alone, would not support additional employer-
conducted recruitment requirements in Florida without greater 
specificity from either SWA regarding the appropriate and effective 
means of recruiting qualified U.S. workers. Accordingly, when applying 
the posted labor supply State determination during application 
processing, the CO would transmit all job orders involving places of 
employment in Georgia to the Florida SWA for posting on its intrastate 
public job listing system; the CO would not instruct the employer to 
conduct additional positive recruitment activities in Florida. However, 
if the OFLC Administrator received more specific, credible information 
about effective recruitment methods, such as information specific as to 
the type of qualified workers available (e.g., tomato harvest workers), 
the area within the State where the workers may be found (e.g., 
Immokalee, Florida), and the methods for apprising the workers of a job 
opportunity (e.g., posting with a particular community organization 
engaged with those workers), the OFLC Administrator's annual 
determination of labor supply States would identify this area and type 
of worker for additional recruitment and the CO's NOA would include 
specific recruitment instructions and document retention information 
applicable to employers in Georgia that are seeking tomato harvest 
workers.
    The additional positive recruitment requirement will be effective 
on the date of publication for any employer that has not yet commenced 
positive recruitment. As the Department decided not to adopt the 
proposed optional pre-filing positive recruitment provision, discussed 
in the preamble to Sec.  655.123, this means that, once published, the 
additional positive recruitment requirements posted are in effect for 
any employer to whom the NPC has not yet issued a NOA in accordance 
with Sec.  655.143. One commenter remarked on the provision retained 
from the 2010 H-2A Final Rule at paragraph (b) that requires an 
employer's additional positive recruitment efforts be no less than the 
kind and degree of recruitment efforts the employer ``made'' to obtain 
foreign workers. The commenter recommended the Department change the 
word ``made'' to the future tense ``makes'' to avoid suggesting that 
foreign labor recruitment precedes U.S. worker recruitment. The 
Department has revised this provision to ``may make'' to clarify that 
the nature of the employer's foreign worker recruitment efforts, not 
the timing of those efforts, is the subject of this provision.
    One workers' rights advocacy organization reiterated its comment, 
submitted in connection with an H-2B program rulemaking, in which it 
urged the Department to require employers to conduct positive 
recruitment in labor surplus areas designated by the Department. As 
with comments discussed in Sec. Sec.  655.151 and 655.152, this comment 
relates to a topic addressed in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule 
and, therefore, it is outside the scope of the current rulemaking. 
However, as discussed in the 2019 H-2A Recruitment Final Rule, by 
requiring the CO to post H-2A job orders on the Department's electronic 
job registry at SeasonalJobs.dol.gov, each H-2A job opportunity will be 
advertised broadly and disseminated to U.S. workers, including those in 
labor surplus areas. Further, to the extent a labor surplus in a 
particular State results in a trend of labor referrals to other States 
or submission of specific information provided to the OFLC 
Administrator regarding workers in a particular area who, if apprised, 
would make themselves available for work elsewhere, the labor supply 
State designation process will provide for additional recruitment in 
that State.
    The Department also received comments from a State governor and an 
individual commenter suggesting the Department expand H-2A program 
recruitment requirements to include an H-2ALC's clients (i.e., the 
growers who contract with the H-2ALC to provide labor or services for 
their agricultural operations). One of these commenters explained that 
local workers would respond to recruitment for employment with a local 
grower but not for employment with an unfamiliar H-2ALC. The other 
commenter expressed concern with growers contracting with out-of-State 
H-2ALCs, who will bring H-2A workers into the State, rather than in-
State FLCs, who employ local workers. These commenters urged the 
Department to expand an H-2ALC's recruitment obligations to include 
recruitment requirements for its client growers. One suggested the 
Department require an H-2ALC to demonstrate that its client grower 
unsuccessfully solicited bids from contractors that do not use H-2A 
workers before contracting with an H-2ALC seeking a temporary labor 
certification, while the other suggested the Department require both 
the client grower and the H-2ALC to satisfy H-2A recruitment 
requirements.
    The Department declines to expand H-2A recruitment requirements to 
parties other than an employer filing an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification or impose additional positive recruitment 
requirements on out-of-State H-2ALCs generally. The Department believes 
that an employer's satisfaction of the several methods of recruitment 
required in the H-2A regulations will ensure an effective test of the 
labor market. The Department requires all employers to conduct 
recruitment through SWA circulation of job orders, a process that 
encompasses various SWA recruitment activities, and through 
advertisements posted on the Department's electronic job registry,



which broadly disseminates job opportunity information on the internet. 
In addition, the H-2A regulations permit the CO to order specific 
additional positive recruitment activities, on a case-by-case basis, if 
the Department receives information that indicates these activities are 
necessary to effectively disseminate information about the job 
opportunity to U.S. workers.
4. Section 655.155, Referrals of U.S. Workers
    The NPRM did not propose amendments to this section containing the 
standards by which SWAs refer qualified, able, willing, and available 
U.S. workers for employment in the H-2A program. The Department 
received some comments on this provision, none of which necessitated 
substantive changes to the regulatory text from the NPRM. Therefore, 
this final rule retains this section from the NPRM without change.
    The comments received on this section generally urged the 
Department to require additional SWA screening of the workers referred 
to employers through the employment services system. They suggested, 
for example, SWAs ``vet'' self-referring applicants and refer only U.S. 
workers who specifically request agricultural work. One stated that few 
referred workers are actually interested in the jobs to which they have 
been referred and considering uninterested workers is time consuming 
and costly for employers. In addition, these commenters suggested that 
SWAs verify the employment eligibility of each worker and confirm the 
worker is available for the entire period of employment before 
referring the worker to the employer.
    The Department respectfully declines to revise this section. Not 
only are these suggestions outside the scope of this rulemaking, but 
the Department discussed suggestions like these at length in the 
preamble to the 2010 H-2A Final Rule when declining to adopt them in 
that rulemaking. See 75 FR 6884, 6905-6906. The Department's position 
in this rulemaking remains the same as in 2010. Accordingly, the 
Department has decided to maintain Sec.  655.155 in this final rule 
without change.
5. Section 655.156, Recruitment Report
    The NPRM proposed amendments to this section to simplify the 
regulatory text related to an employer's obligation to report on its 
efforts to recruit U.S. workers, conform the regulatory text to other 
changes proposed in the NPRM, and clarify the content requirements for 
the recruitment report. The Department received a few comments on this 
provision, none of which necessitated substantive changes to the 
regulatory text from the NPRM. However, in response to a comment 
related to paragraph (b) of this section, the Department has made 
revisions to clarify that an employer must produce its updated 
recruitment report to the Department and not to any other Federal 
agency that might request it without independent investigative or other 
authority to do so. The Department also made clarifying edits to 
paragraph (a), as discussed below. Finally, the Department also revised 
this section to conform to the Department's decision not to adopt the 
proposed staggered entry and optional pre-filing recruitment provisions 
in this final rule, and made minor technical edits to conform to the 
terminology used in Sec.  655.153. Otherwise, this final rule adopts 
the proposed changes from the NPRM.
    In the NPRM, the Department proposed to remove language in 
paragraph (a) related to the timing of the employer's initial 
recruitment report submission, as this timing requirement was addressed 
at proposed Sec.  655.123(d) for those employers who engage in optional 
pre-filing positive recruitment and at Sec.  655.143(b)(2) for those 
employers who receive a NOA, which will contain instructions regarding 
pre-certification recruitment report submission. Consistent with the 
Department's decision not to adopt proposed Sec.  655.123, as discussed 
above, paragraph (a) in this final rule retains the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule language requiring employers to submit the recruitment report on a 
date specified by the CO in the NOA. In addition, the Department has 
made a technical correction to paragraph (a) so that this paragraph 
refers to the NOA provisions at Sec.  655.143, rather than the NOD 
provisions at Sec.  655.141.
    In addition, the Department proposed to add language in paragraphs 
(a)(1) and (3) to make explicit the required content of a recruitment 
report. A recruitment report describes a particular recruitment 
activity clearly when it identifies the specific, proper name of the 
recruitment source--rather than only the general type of recruitment 
source (e.g., ``web page'' or ``online job board'')--and provides the 
date(s) of advertisement for that recruitment source. In addition, a 
recruitment report clearly describes the employer's satisfaction of its 
obligation under Sec.  655.153 to contact former U.S. workers when it 
either (1) affirmatively states the employer has no former U.S. workers 
to contact; or (2) states that, before submitting the recruitment 
report, the employer contacted former U.S. workers and describes the 
means the employer used to make that contact. In this final rule, the 
Department has made clarifying revisions to paragraphs (a)(1) and (3). 
In paragraph (a)(1), the Department revised ``date'' to ``date(s),'' to 
clarify that the recruitment report must identify the date--or range of 
dates--of each recruitment activity, which may be different for each 
recruitment activity. In addition, the Department revised paragraph 
(a)(3) to clarify that an employer's statement in its recruitment 
report about contacting former U.S. workers must identify the date(s) 
of contact, as well as the means of contact, when describing the 
employer's contact with such workers.
    Two workers' rights advocacy organizations suggested the Department 
add to the recruitment report content requirements in paragraph (a). 
One suggested the Department align the H-2A and H-2B regulations by 
requiring H-2A recruitment reports to confirm (1) community-based 
organization(s) designated by the CO were contacted, if applicable; (2) 
additional recruitment was conducted, as directed by the CO; and (3) 
the bargaining representative was contacted, if applicable, and by what 
means, or that the employer posted the availability of the job 
opportunity to all employees in the job classification and area in 
which the work will be performed by the foreign workers. The other 
commenter thought the recruitment report should include a description 
of the employer's recruitment of H-2A workers, including the resources 
expended in such efforts; a description of the recruitment activities 
of non-H-2A employers in the AIE for the occupation; and information 
about how the employer checks worker qualifications, if applicable. 
Paragraph (a)(1) already requires the employer to identify in the 
recruitment report each recruitment source used and the date(s) of 
recruitment using that source. This recruitment report content 
requirement encompasses all recruitment activities the CO identifies in 
the NOA. The Department appreciates the opportunity to clarify that 
paragraph (a)(1) requires an employer's recruitment report to confirm 
contact with a community-based organization or any other additional 
recruitment activity directed in the NOA, if applicable. However, the 
Department declines to revise paragraph (a)(1) further at this time.
    The Department declines to add in this rulemaking the suggested H-
2B recruitment and recruitment report content requirements, or the 
additional content related to recruitment efforts



outside of the employer's own efforts to recruit and hire U.S. workers. 
Neither adopting the H-2B program's general requirement to contact a 
bargaining representative or post notice at the place of employment, 
nor including content in the recruitment report beyond the employer's 
own efforts to recruit and hire U.S. workers during the H-2A 
recruitment period were proposed for public comment. As such, expanding 
the recruitment report content requirements in the manner suggested is 
outside the scope of this rulemaking.
    One of these commenters also urged the Department to make 
significant additional changes to the recruitment requirements and 
recruitment report procedures, beyond those the Department proposed for 
public comment. For example, the commenter suggested the Department 
require employers to submit a recruitment report before certification 
is granted and, again, on the first date of need. In addition, the 
commenter suggested that the Department transmit the recruitment report 
to the SWA to solicit the case-by-case analysis of the employer's 
recruitment efforts, as compared with those of non-H-2A employers in 
the area, and the location of historical and/or current labor supply 
patterns to inform additional positive recruitment activities under 
Sec.  655.154(b). This commenter also suggested the Department ask the 
SWA to provide a list of all U.S. worker referrals to each job so the 
Department can review both the SWA's list and the employer's list and 
contact all listed workers to verify the accuracy of the employer's 
report. The commenter further suggested a website portal be created to 
allow workers to report unlawful rejections. These suggestions also are 
beyond the scope of this rulemaking and would require public notice and 
solicitation of comments. However, the Department reminds concerned 
parties that workers may call WHD's hotline at (466) 487-9243 (this is 
not a toll-free number) or 1 (866) 4US-WAGE (toll-free number) and/or 
contact their local district WHD office to file a complaint if they 
believe they have been unlawfully rejected. In addition, workers may 
call other federal agencies that enforce anti-discrimination laws if 
they believe an H-2A employer has unlawfully rejected them. For 
example, workers can call the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of 
DOJ's Civil Rights Division at 1 (800) 255-7688 if they believe an H-2A 
employer rejected them or fired them because of their citizenship, 
immigration status, or national origin.
    The Department also proposed revisions to paragraph (b), the 
provision addressing the employer's obligation to update its 
recruitment report throughout the positive recruitment period at Sec.  
655.135(d) and submit it for review, if requested. An agent remarked on 
the revised language that would expand an employer's obligation to 
produce its recruitment report, beyond the Department, to ``any other 
Federal agency.'' The commenter expressed concern such information 
sharing could have a ``significant chilling effect on workers'' and is 
beyond the Department's statutory authority. The Department has 
determined that further revision to paragraph (b) is necessary to more 
clearly reflect the Department's intent. The Department intended to 
retain the requirement for an employer to produce its recruitment 
report to the Department, upon the Department's request, not to any 
Federal agency that might request it without independent authority to 
do so. In addition, the Department's intention was to clarify that the 
information sharing provision at Sec.  655.130(f) in this final rule 
applies to recruitment reports the Department may share with other 
Federal agencies with authority to enforce compliance with program 
requirements as appropriate for investigative and enforcement purposes.
    The Department agrees the proposed language in paragraph (b) was 
overbroad and could be misunderstood or misused, resulting in the 
sharing of an employer's recruitment report with a Federal agency not 
involved in H-2A program enforcement and integrity activities or for 
purposes other than program-related investigative or enforcement 
purposes. The Department's rationale for revising both Sec. Sec.  
655.130(f) and 655.156(b) to more clearly address intergovernmental 
information sharing, and the parameters for such sharing, along with 
this commenter's related concerns, are discussed in the preamble to 
Sec.  655.130(f). Accordingly, the Department has revised paragraph (b) 
to require employers to produce recruitment reports only to the 
Department (e.g., OFLC or WHD) and only upon the Department's request, 
and to clarify that the same scope of information sharing applies to 
recruitment reports as applies to information received in the course of 
processing Applications for Temporary Employment Certification or in 
the course of conducting program integrity measures such as audits. 
Otherwise, the Department has adopted this section as proposed in the 
NPRM, without change.
6. Sections 655.157, Withholding of U.S. Workers Prohibited, and 
655.158, Duration of Positive Recruitment
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to these sections in the form of 
technical corrections for conformity within the subpart. The Department 
received no comments related to the prohibition of withholding U.S. 
workers at Sec.  655.157 and only one comment expressing general 
support regarding the duration of positive recruitment at Sec.  
655.158, which the Department had retained from the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule. Therefore, this final rule adopts the proposed changes to these 
sections from the NPRM without change.

F. Labor Certification Determinations

1. Section 655.161, Criteria for Certification
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to clarify 
existing rules and procedures. In paragraph (a), the Department 
proposed to use a clear statement that the employer must comply with 
all applicable requirements of 20 CFR parts 653 and 654 and all 
requirements of 20 CFR part 655, subpart B, that are necessary for 
certification, without the nonexclusive list of those requirements that 
appeared in the 2010 H-2A Final Rule. Similarly, the Department's 
proposed revisions to paragraph (b) simplified regulatory language to 
more clearly state that the CO will count as available any U.S. worker 
whom the employer must consider and whom the employer has not rejected 
for a lawful, job-related reason. The Department received no comments 
on the proposed amendments to the regulatory text. Therefore, this 
final rule adopts the proposed changes from the NPRM without change.
2. Section 655.162, Approved Certification
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to modernize and 
simplify the Department's issuance of temporary agricultural labor 
certifications to employers and the delivery of those certifications to 
USCIS, while maintaining program integrity. The Department received a 
few supportive comments on this provision, none of which necessitated 
changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed below, this 
provision remains unchanged from the NPRM.
    Under this final rule, the Department will issue temporary 
agricultural labor certifications electronically using a Final 
Determination notice that



confirms certification and contains succinct, essential information 
about the certified application. The CO will send the Final 
Determination notice, as well as a copy of the certified Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification and job order, both to the 
employer and USCIS using an electronic method designated by the OFLC 
Administrator.\110\ In cases where an employer is permitted to file by 
mail as set forth in Sec.  655.130(c), the Department will deliver 
certification documentation to the employer using a method that 
normally assures next-day delivery. The Department will send the same 
information to USCIS, using the same electronic method used to transmit 
the temporary agricultural labor certification to the employer, 
regardless of the employer's method of filing. Finally, consistent with 
current practice, the Department will send a copy of the certification 
documentation to the employer and, if applicable, to the employer's 
agent or attorney.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \110\ When an employer submits the petition to USCIS, it must 
comply with DHS regulations and USCIS petition form instructions, 
which may include printing and submitting a copy of the temporary 
agricultural labor certification.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

3. Section 655.164, Denied Certification
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to modernize the 
Department's issuance of Final Determination notices that deny 
temporary agricultural labor certifications and to simplify the 
regulatory text by replacing details about the procedure for appealing 
a Final Determination with references to Sec.  655.171, the section of 
the regulation containing the standards and procedures for appeals. The 
Department received a few supportive comments on this provision, none 
of which necessitated changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, this 
provision remains unchanged from the NPRM.
4. Section 655.165, Partial Certification
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to modernize the 
Department's issuance of partial temporary agricultural labor 
certifications to employers and the delivery of those certifications to 
USCIS, in addition to other amendments conforming to proposed changes 
in other sections of the regulation. The Department received a few 
comments on this provision, none of which necessitated changes to the 
regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed below, this provision remains 
unchanged from the NPRM.
    The Department received no comments expressing opposition to the 
proposed changes, but it did receive comments from two employers and an 
agent expressing opposition to the general practice of issuing partial 
temporary agricultural labor certifications. Two of these commenters 
stated that the Department should not reduce a temporary agricultural 
labor certification by the number of U.S. workers hired if the employer 
attests that it still has a need for the full number of requested H-2A 
workers, notwithstanding the hiring of any U.S. workers. The commenters 
believed this approach would be helpful to employers where conditions 
change and would not adversely affect the wages or working conditions 
of U.S. workers, as the employer's obligation to hire qualified and 
available U.S. workers and displace an H-2A worker to accommodate the 
hiring of a U.S. worker, if necessary, would continue throughout the 
recruitment period. One of these commenters acknowledged that Sec.  
655.166 permits a redetermination based on unavailability of U.S. 
workers but asserted that process is time consuming and costs the 
employer additional filing fees to submit amended petitions with USCIS. 
This commenter suggested that it would be more effective and efficient 
to discontinue issuing partial temporary agricultural labor 
certifications and rely on the employer's attestation to continue 
hiring any qualified and available U.S. workers.
    The Department appreciates the commenter's suggestion, but the 
Department did not propose such a change, nor suggest it was open to 
considering comments on this issue in the NPRM. Therefore, this comment 
is beyond the scope of this rulemaking and the Department has adopted 
the proposed changes to Sec.  655.165 without amendment.
5. Section 655.166, Requests for Determinations Based on 
Nonavailability of U.S. Workers
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to modernize the 
Department's receipt and issuance of redetermination decisions, 
consistent with the electronic filing and certification procedures 
proposed in Sec. Sec.  655.130 and 655.162, in addition to other 
technical amendments to simplify the provision generally. The 
Department received no comments on the proposed amendments to the 
regulatory text. Therefore, this final rule adopts the proposed changes 
from the NPRM without change.
6. Section 655.167, Document Retention Requirements of H-2A Employers
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to clarify under 
paragraph (c)(1) that employers must document compliance with each 
recruitment step applicable to the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification. The Department also proposed to add a new paragraph at 
(c)(7) clarifying that if a worker voluntarily abandons employment 
before the end of the contract period, or is terminated for cause, as 
set forth in Sec.  655.122(n), employers must retain records 
demonstrating they notified the NPC and DHS. The Department received a 
few comments on this provision, none of which necessitated changes to 
the regulatory text. However, as discussed below, the Department 
believes it is necessary to make minor conforming amendments due to 
prior revisions currently in effect based on the Department's 2019 H-2A 
Recruitment Final Rule and one technical revision.
    The Department received two comments objecting to the requirement 
that employers retain records associated with notifying the NPC and DHS 
of workers who abandon employment or are terminated for cause. These 
commenters asserted such a requirement created an unnecessary burden 
because the three-fourths guarantee and return transportation 
obligations already provide an adequate incentive for employers to 
provide timely notice to the Department. One of the commenters also 
asserted the Department lacked authority to impose the requirement, as 
proposed, and that USCIS must engage in its own rulemaking if it wishes 
to require employers to retain this documentation.
    The Department appreciates the comments received, but respectfully 
disagrees. As explained below and in the preamble for Sec. Sec.  
655.122(n), 655.141, and 655.153, the requirement to retain 
documentation demonstrating the employer provided notice of abandonment 
or termination is necessary for the Department's administration and 
enforcement of the temporary agricultural labor certification program; 
thus, the imposition of such recordkeeping obligations is within the 
Department's authority under the INA. As stated in the NPRM, the 
Department encounters H-2A employers that claim to have properly 
notified the NPC regarding workers who have abandoned employment or 
have been terminated for cause, but the employers frequently cannot 
produce records of such notification when requested. Requiring



each employer to maintain records of the notification to the NPC, and 
to DHS in the case of a worker in H-2A nonimmigrant status, supports 
the Department's enforcement policy of investigating claims of 
abandonment or termination. Further, retention of these records also 
may benefit the employer. For example, in the event a U.S. worker who 
abandoned employment or whom the employer terminated for cause later 
claims the employer failed to make contact to solicit their return to 
work, the employer's retained record of its contemporaneous notice to 
the NPC could demonstrate that the employer was not required to contact 
that particular U.S. worker under Sec.  655.153. In addition, the 
Department is not imposing a record retention requirement on behalf of 
DHS; DHS already has a record retention obligation in this context. 
See, 8 CFR 214.2(h)(5)(vi)(B)(2).
    In addition, the Department does not believe the requirement will 
impose a significant burden on employers. As the commenters noted, many 
employers already provide the Department notice of abandonment or 
termination to take advantage of incentives provided in Sec. Sec.  
655.122(n) and 655.153; for these employers, the only change is a 
requirement to add a copy of the notice to the employer's document 
retention file. In the NPRM, the Department assessed the proposed 
burden of this recordkeeping requirement and determined the total 
annual cost, among just over 4,900 employers, would range from $10,890 
in 2020 to $15,988 in 2029. The Department believes the minimal burden 
imposed on employers by this recordkeeping requirement is outweighed by 
the Department's interest in ensuring program integrity.
    Therefore, the Department has adopted the proposed changes to Sec.  
655.167, with additional revisions necessary to conform to a change 
adopted in Sec.  655.175 of this final rule and the current provisions 
in effect, which were revised as a result of the 2019 H-2A Recruitment 
Final Rule, and to remove an unnecessary parenthesis. Accordingly, this 
final rule reflects the elimination of paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of the 2010 
H-2A Final Rule--the document retention requirements associated with 
print newspaper advertisements--and the redesignation of paragraphs 
(c)(1)(iii) and (iv) as paragraphs (c)(1)(ii) and (iii), which the 2019 
H-2A Recruitment Final Rule made effective October 21, 2019.

G. Post-Certification

1. Section 655.170, Extensions
    The NPRM did not propose changes to the standards and procedures by 
which an employer may apply to the CO for a short- or long-term 
extension to its certified Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification. However, the Department is making one minor technical 
amendment under paragraph (b) to replace the term ``12 months'' with 
``1 year'' as the maximum period for a long-term extension, except in 
extraordinary circumstances, to ensure greater consistency with the use 
of that same term adopted under Sec.  655.103(d) of this final rule
2. Section 655.171, Appeals
    The NPRM proposed substantive amendments to this section containing 
the standards and procedures by which an employer may request an 
administrative review or a de novo hearing before an ALJ regarding a 
decision issued by the CO, where authorized under this subpart. As 
discussed in detail below, the Department received numerous comments 
opposing all or some of the proposed changes to Sec.  655.171. After 
carefully considering these comments, the Department has decided to 
largely adopt the regulatory text proposed in the NPRM, with several 
minor revisions, as discussed below. Such revisions include the 
addition of regulatory language the Department adopted in a different 
final rule, Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary (85 
FR 30608), and other modifications that either respond to concerns 
raised by commenters or provide further clarity. Some comments simply 
opposed all changes regarding the appeals section without explanation, 
and do not necessitate changes to the regulatory text. Other comments 
referenced Sec.  655.171 but appear to address changes related to Sec.  
655.141; the Department has already addressed those comments in the 
section of the preamble addressing Sec.  655.141.
a. Discretionary Review by the Secretary
    Between the publication of the proposed rule at 84 FR 36168 (July 
26, 2019) and this final rule, the Department published Rules 
Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary (85 FR 30608), which 
affected the language of this section. The current iteration of Sec.  
655.171, with the changes effectuated by the Rules Concerning 
Discretionary Review by the Secretary, is different from the iteration 
of Sec.  655.171 that was in effect when the proposed rule was 
published. Specifically, the Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by 
the Secretary removed the language in paragraphs (a) and (b)(2) that 
stated the decision of the ALJ was the final decision of the Secretary, 
and it added language, pursuant to 29 CFR 18.95 stating that the 
Secretary could assume jurisdiction over a ``case for which a de novo 
hearing is sought or handled under 20 CFR 655.171(b),'' after the BALCA 
had issued a decision. 29 CFR 18.95(b)(2).
    In the NPRM, the Department had already proposed removing language 
from the prior regulations that stated the ALJ's decision is the final 
decision of the Secretary. This language was thought to be unnecessary 
in light of the Office of Administrative Law Judge's (OALJ) Rules of 
Practice and Procedure for Administrative Hearings, which state that 
the ALJ's decision is the final agency action for purposes of judicial 
review when the applicable statute or regulation does not provide for a 
review procedure, as here. See 29 CFR 18.95; 20 CFR 655.171. The 
removal of the ``final decision'' language was consistent with the H-2B 
regulations, which lack similar language, and does not affect the issue 
of whether the parties may appeal to the ARB, which is governed by 
other authorities issued by the Department. See 20 CFR 655.61; 
Secretary's Order 02-2012, Delegation of Authority and Assignment of 
Responsibility to the Administrative Review Board, 77 FR 69378 (Nov. 
16, 2012). However, because the aforementioned Rules Concerning 
Discretionary Review by the Secretary removed this language from the 
regulations, the issue of the removal of the language is now moot.
    The Department has merged the language added to this subsection by 
the issuance of Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary 
with the originally proposed text.
b. Request for Review
    The prior text of Sec.  655.171 outlined the procedure by which an 
employer may request administrative review, the timeline for doing so, 
and how the ALJ must make a decision. General information on the 
request for review was previously located in sections of the H-2A 
regulations that discussed the CO's authority and procedure for issuing 
a specific decision (e.g., denied certification). See, e.g., Sec.  
655.164. As proposed in the NPRM, the Department has amended the 
regulations so that the language regarding the requests for review are 
located in one location. The language conforms with the corresponding 
appeals section in the H-2B regulations to the extent possible to



provide consistency across the programs.
    To clarify an employer's existing administrative exhaustion 
obligations, the NPRM specified in paragraph (a) that when a hearing or 
administrative review of a CO's decision is authorized in this subpart, 
an employer must request such review in accordance with Sec.  655.171 
in order to exhaust its administrative remedies. No comments were 
received on the text regarding the administrative remedies, and the 
Department has adopted this language unchanged from the NPRM.
    The newly added paragraph (a) describes the content of the request 
for review and the procedures for its submission. This language was 
drawn from the H-2B procedures at Sec.  655.61 as well as the already 
existing text in the H-2A regulations. In paragraph (a)(1), the 
Department proposed to extend the time in which an employer may file a 
request for review from 7 calendar days to within 10 business days of 
the date of the CO's decision to more closely align with the timeframe 
to request review under the H-2B regulations. It also proposed that the 
request for review must be received by--rather than sent to--the Chief 
ALJ and the CO within 10 business days of the CO's decision. The 
Department believes that specifying a time for receipt of the request 
for review is reasonable because it enables the Department to more 
easily determine if a request was filed in a timely manner. The longer 
period of time provided to file a request for review allows the 
employer more time to develop a robust request, which, in the case of a 
request for administrative review, will also serve as the employer's 
brief to the OALJ. To this end, the Department has included in the 
regulations that the request must include the specific factual issues 
the employer seeks to have examined as part of its appeal. Having this 
information allows for the prompt and fair processing of appeals by 
providing the ALJ and the CO adequate notice regarding the nature of 
the appeal. One commenter supported the proposal to determine 
timeliness based on the receipt of the request for review. The 
Department received no comments that opposed the changes in paragraph 
(a)(1), and therefore the Department has adopted the proposed language 
unchanged from the NPRM.
    In paragraph (a)(1), the Department has also added the phrase 
``[e]xcept as provided in Sec.  655.181(b)(3).'' Upon review of the 
proposed Sec. Sec.  655.171 and 655.181, it became apparent that the 
regulatory text, as drafted, contained confusing information regarding 
the timelines for submitting appeal requests. This added phrase makes 
clear that Sec.  655.181(b)(3), while referencing Sec.  655.171, does 
not change the existing timelines to file appeal requests under Sec.  
655.181.
    In paragraph (a)(4), the Department proposed including language 
that the request for review clearly state whether the employer is 
requesting administrative review or a de novo hearing. The Department 
has found that in the past, some requests did not identify the type of 
review sought by the employer, which would result in delays (as the ALJ 
asked for clarification) or a type of review not desired by the 
employer (as the ALJ presumed the employer requested a hearing). The 
Department also proposed that the case will proceed as a request for 
administrative review if the request does not clearly state the 
employer is seeking a hearing. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(e)(1) (noting the 
regulations must provide for expedited administrative review or, at the 
employer's request, for a de novo hearing).
    The Department received a few comments regarding this proposal. One 
commenter supported the change and stated that this will expedite the 
appeals process by avoiding ambiguity. Another commenter opposed the 
proposal and characterized it as placing a burden on the employer to 
identify the type of review requested. Another commenter asked for 
clarification on whether an employer had to go through administrative 
review before it could ask for a de novo hearing. The Department 
disagrees with the characterization that articulating which type of 
appeal an employer desires is a burden. The INA requires the 
regulations provide for an expedited procedure for review, ``or, at the 
applicant's request,'' a de novo hearing. 8 U.S.C. 1188(e)(1). The 
employer may request whichever it prefers. The Department agrees with 
the comment that the proposed change will improve judicial efficiency 
and provide for more orderly and consistent administration of appeal 
proceedings, and therefore has adopted the proposed language. Finally, 
in response to the commenter seeking clarification, an employer does 
not need to go through administrative review before asking for a 
hearing. Therefore, the Department has adopted the proposed language 
unchanged from the NPRM.
    In paragraph (a)(7), the Department proposed to clarify that where 
the request is for administrative review, the request may only contain 
evidence that was before the CO at the time of their decision. This 
language has been adopted unchanged from the NPRM. The Department 
included this language in paragraph (a), which tracks language in the 
administrative review section (paragraph (d)), so that employers or 
their representative(s) can prepare their requests accordingly. The 
Department has also included language that an employer may submit new 
evidence with its request for a de novo hearing, which will be 
considered by the ALJ if the new evidence is introduced during the 
hearing. The Department included this language in paragraph (a), which 
tracks language in the de novo hearing section (paragraph (e)), so that 
employers or their representative(s) can assemble their requests and 
prepare their cases accordingly. Comments regarding evidence submission 
are discussed in the administrative review and de novo hearing sections 
below.
c. Administrative File
    Proposed paragraphs (b) and (c) drew on existing language in the H-
2A regulations and language from the H-2B appeals procedures to 
reorganize information on the administrative file and the assignment of 
the case into separate sections. Though not proposed in the NPRM, the 
Department has decided to change how it refers to the ``administrative 
file'' or ``appeal file.'' Both terms have been used. To be consistent, 
the Department will simply refer to the document that OFLC compiles and 
transmits as the ``administrative file.'' This is a nonsubstantive 
change that is made only to provide clarity in the regulation.
    The Department proposed paragraph (b) to specify that the CO would 
send a copy of the OFLC administrative file to the Chief ALJ as soon as 
practicable. One commenter approved of this additional language but 
suggested that the regulations go further and require that the 
administrative file be transmitted within a specific timeframe. This 
commenter also suggested that because applications are filed 
electronically, a 48- or 72-hour deadline for transmittal should be 
feasible. Another commenter suggested that compiling the administrative 
file was simply a matter of printing it. The Department understands the 
concern for expediency and the sensitive timing of these cases, but 
compiling the administrative file is not as simple as suggested. As 
with any type of government or court record, the administrative file 
must be assembled and reviewed for accuracy and completeness. Because 
the length of this process is dependent on a variety of factors, 
including the length of the record, the Department has determined



that a specific timeframe is not practicable. The Department believes 
adding the language that the CO will send the administrative file as 
soon as practicable balances expediency with the realities of agency 
resources and therefore has adopted the proposed language that the file 
must be sent as soon as practicable.
    A number of commenters believed that the administrative file would 
not be transmitted to the employer. This is not the case. The current 
regulations do not explicitly state that the administrative file will 
be sent to the employer and the NPRM mirrored that same language. 
However, in response to these concerns, the text of paragraph (b) has 
been amended to state that the CO will transmit the administrative file 
to the Chief ALJ as well as to the employer, the employer's attorney or 
agent (if applicable), and the Associate Solicitor for Employment and 
Training Legal Services, Office of the Solicitor, U.S. DOL (counsel).
d. Assignment
    In paragraph (c), the Department proposed language to clarify that 
the ALJ assigned to the case may be a single member or a three-member 
panel of the BALCA. The proposed amendments to paragraphs (b) and (c) 
mirror the wording and organization of the appeals section in the H-2B 
regulations. See Sec.  655.61(b) and (d). The Department did not 
receive any comments regarding paragraph (c) and has adopted the 
paragraph as proposed.
e. Administrative Review
    The prior regulations regarding administrative review give only a 
brief overview of the process. In the NPRM, the Department proposed 
adding a specific briefing schedule, explaining the standard and scope 
of review, and providing a revised timeline for decisions in cases of 
administrative review. The Department received numerous comments on 
these changes. After carefully considering these comments, the 
Department has decided to substantially adopt the proposed language. 
The changes made, and the reasons for making those changes, are 
discussed below.
    In paragraph (d)(1), the Department outlined a briefing schedule; 
numerous commenters opposed the proposed change. Some argued that the 
counsel for the CO would have an advantage in the appeal process. One 
commenter suggested that this was because counsel would be able to 
respond item-by-item to the arguments made by the employers. One 
commenter was concerned that because the counsel for the CO has 7 days 
after receiving the administrative file to submit a brief, and because 
there is no set deadline for when the administrative file must be 
transmitted to the counsel for the CO, the counsel for the CO would 
have significantly more time to write a brief than the employer. Some 
commenters expressed opposition on the grounds that employers would not 
have the administrative file with them when writing their briefs, as 
the brief must be submitted with the request for review. While many of 
those commenters who expressed opposition on this ground believed they 
would never receive the administrative file, which is not the case, the 
concern that they would have to write a brief without the 
administrative file is noted. Some suggested that not having concurrent 
briefing would slow down the process of review.
    The Department understands the commenters' concerns about timing 
and fairness. As noted in the NPRM, because there was no regulatory 
briefing schedule, concurrent or otherwise, there was often 
inconsistency among cases, and neither party knew when briefs would be 
due until an ALJ issued an order. Also, it was not uncommon that, due 
to the practice of simultaneous briefing, issues raised by the employer 
were not addressed by the counsel for the CO. A set briefing schedule 
will ensure consistency of deadlines between cases and thus efficiency 
in the appeals process. The CO filing a brief in response to the 
employer's brief allows for a complete set of arguments, as 
appropriate, which, in turn, more effectively assists the ALJ's 
decision-making process. Through this updated rule, the employer has 
been given 10 business days, instead of 7 calendar days, to file its 
request for review. This provides the employer with ample time to write 
a brief in support of its case and provides the employer as much, if 
not more, time than the CO to draft and file its brief.
    The Department does not agree that the counsel for the CO will have 
an advantage over the employer with respect to the briefing schedule. 
The administrative file contains documents the employer has submitted 
to OFLC with its applications, and it contains communication back and 
forth between OFLC and the employer. The employer should therefore have 
the vast majority, if not all, of the documents contained in the 
administrative file at the time it files its request for review. 
Furthermore, the administrative file must be assembled and transmitted 
to the parties ``as soon as practicable.'' A nonconcurrent briefing 
structure may extend the timeline for adjudication of an appeal, but 
the Department nonetheless believes that the benefit of a set time 
schedule for briefing, and the benefits of having a complete set of 
arguments, ultimately provide a more efficient and reliable process.
    The Department invited the public to comment on other ways it could 
address a briefing procedure while still ensuring expedited review. The 
public submitted no such proposals, except to argue that no change 
should be made and that the Department should keep concurrent briefing. 
However, as stated, the regulations did not establish a briefing 
schedule. To the extent that the argument to ``keep'' concurrent 
briefing is a proposal, the Department explained in the proposal and 
above why it has decided to adopt the proposed approach.
    In paragraph (d)(2), the Department has set out clearly the 
standard of review for administrative review cases. The Department did 
not receive comments on the proposed paragraph (d)(2) and the 
Department has adopted this section as proposed. The Department has 
incorporated the arbitrary and capricious standard of review into 
requests for administrative review, codifying a well-established and 
longstanding interpretation of the standard of review for such 
requests. See, e.g., J and V Farms, LLC, 2016-TLC-00022, at 3 & n.2 
(Mar. 7, 2016).
    In paragraph (d)(3), the Department has included language providing 
that the scope of administrative review is limited to evidence in the 
OFLC administrative file that was before the CO when the CO made their 
decision. The Department included this language because the 
administrative file may contain new evidence submitted by the employer 
to the CO after the CO has issued their decision, such as when the 
employer submits a request for review with new evidence, or a corrected 
recruitment report with new information, after the CO has denied 
certification. Although such evidence is in the administrative file, 
this change was proposed to clarify that the ALJ may not consider this 
new evidence because it was not before the CO at the time of the CO's 
decision. Despite some commenters' assertion that the Department is 
removing the ability to submit new evidence on administrative review, 
this amendment incorporates legal principles already in existence for 
H-2A cases, namely, that administrative review is limited to the 
written record and written submissions, ``which may not include new 
evidence.'' Sec.  655.171(a). A de novo hearing is the



only avenue by which an employer may introduce new evidence.
    The Department has adopted the substance of paragraph (d)(3) but 
has reorganized the wording of this paragraph for clarity. The language 
now mirrors more closely the similar language in paragraph (e)(2). The 
Department has also added for clarity the fact that the ALJ must 
affirm, reverse, or modify the CO's decision, or remand to the CO for 
further action, ``except in cases over which the Secretary has assumed 
jurisdiction pursuant to 29 CFR 18.95.'' This concluding phrase was not 
in the NPRM, nor was it in the amended language of Sec.  655.171 in the 
Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary (85 FR 30608). 
However, the principle that the Secretary may assume jurisdiction over 
cases in which administrative review was requested is contained within 
the Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary and is now a 
part of the current regulations. 29 CFR 18.95(b)(1) states that a 
decision by the BALCA constitutes the final administrative decision 
except in cases over which the Secretary has assumed jurisdiction, 
which include ``any case for which administrative review is sought or 
handled in accordance with 20 CFR 655.171(a).'' The addition of the 
language in paragraph (d)(3) codifies the principle of 29 CFR 
18.95(b)(1) in this section of the regulations. This also makes the 
language more consistent with similar language located in paragraph 
(e)(2).
    In proposed paragraph (d)(4), the Department has modified the 
timeline in which the ALJ should issue a decision from 5 business days 
to 10 business days after receipt of the OFLC administrative file, or 
within 7 business days of the submission of the CO's brief, whichever 
is later. This schedule conforms to the timeline in the H-2B appeals 
procedures while continuing to provide for an expedited review 
procedure. See Sec.  655.61(f). No comments were received on paragraph 
(d)(4). The Department has made one change to proposed paragraph (d)(4) 
for clarity. The paragraph had modified the individuals and entities 
that receive the ALJ's decision to align with the recipients of ALJ 
decisions under the H-2B regulations, namely, the employer, the CO, and 
counsel for the CO. See Sec.  655.61(f). In this final rule, the 
Department has added text to clarify that the employer's attorney or 
agent (if applicable) will also receive the decision.
f. De Novo Hearing
    The Department proposed changes related to the de novo hearing 
process. After carefully considering the comments it received on this 
proposal, the Department has decided to adopt the proposed language, 
with minimal changes, as discussed below.
    In paragraph (e)(1)(ii), the Department proposed changing the time 
in which an expedited hearing must occur from 5 to 14 business days 
after the ALJ's receipt of the OFLC administrative file. This proposed 
change was based on the Department's administrative experience, and it 
was intended to allow the parties reasonable time to adequately prepare 
for a hearing while effectuating the INA's concern for prompt 
processing of H-2A applications.
    Some commenters opposed the proposal that the hearing must occur 
within 14 business days of the ALJ's receipt of the administrative file 
rather than within 5 business days. One explained that because there 
was no time certain for the CO to send the administrative file to the 
Chief ALJ and related parties, extending the time for a hearing could 
cause ``irreparable harm'' to employers while they wait. The commenter 
further argued that this time extension combined with the 10 calendar 
days in which the ALJ may issue an opinion, along with alleged delays 
by DHS and DOS, means that it is unlikely an employer will have its 
workers by its start date of need.
    The Department understands the concerns regarding timing and 
expediency but has adopted the language as proposed. As stated in the 
NPRM, the experience of the Department is that scheduling a hearing 
within 5 business days is very difficult for not only the parties, but 
also the ALJ. The extension of time is meant to provide more 
preparation time, flexibility, and time for the parties to potentially 
settle the case. The Department believes that holding a hearing within 
14 business days is still working within an expedited timeline. To the 
extent commenters suggested late arrival of workers is caused by 
alleged delays from DHS or DOS, those comments cannot be resolved by 
this regulatory process and are not within the Department's purview.
    In paragraph (e)(1)(iii), the Department had proposed to provide 
the ALJ broad discretion to limit discovery and the filing of pre-
hearing motions in a way that contributes to a fair hearing while not 
unduly burdening the parties. As is the case with the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule, 29 CFR part 18 governs rules of procedure during the hearing 
process, subject to certain exceptions discussed in this section and 
part 18. Although 29 CFR 18.50 through 18.65. permits an ALJ to 
exercise discretion in matters of discovery, the Department's language 
makes explicit the ALJ's broad discretion to limit discovery and the 
filing of pre-hearing motions in the circumstances of a hearing under 
the H-2A program. The Department has included this language because in 
the H-2A program, the time to hold a hearing and to issue a decision 
following that hearing are expedited. This expedited timeline makes the 
need for limits on requests for discovery and the filing of pre-hearing 
motions is particularly pronounced. The administrative procedures in 29 
CFR part 18, and particularly the sections on discovery and motions, 
were not specifically designed for the H-2A program, nor for situations 
that require an accelerated adjudication process, as is required by the 
H-2A program. As such, the Department has provided the ALJ with broad 
discretion to restrict discovery and the filing of pre-hearing motions 
to situations where they are needed to ensure fundamental fairness and 
expeditious proceedings. One commenter sought clarification regarding 
the ALJ's discretion and asked if this text was a change to current 
practice. The proposed regulation was not a change to current practice, 
but rather a codification of the same. No other comments were received 
in relation to this subsection and the Department has adopted it as 
proposed.
    In paragraph (e)(1)(iv), the Department proposed a 10-calendar-day 
timeframe in which an ALJ must issue a decision after a hearing. The 
Department invited the public to comment on whether this time period 
should be modified, but no proposals were received. The Department has 
adopted the language as proposed.
    In paragraph (e)(1)(v), the Department clarified that for cases in 
which the employer waives its right to a hearing, the proper standard 
and scope of review is the standard and scope used for administrative 
review. Under the INA, the regulations must provide for expedited 
administrative review or, at the employer's request, a de novo hearing. 
See 8 U.S.C. 1188(e)(1). If the employer requests a de novo hearing but 
then waives its right to such a hearing, the case reverts to 
administrative review. In that circumstance, the standard and scope of 
review for administrative review applies. Similarly, should an ALJ 
determine that a case does not contain disputed material facts to 
warrant a hearing, review must proceed under the standard



and scope used in cases of administrative review. As no comments were 
received on this clarification, the Department has adopted the language 
as proposed.
    In paragraph (e)(2), the Department has articulated the standard 
and scope of review for de novo hearings. The Department has clarified 
that the ALJ will review the evidence presented during the hearing and 
the CO's decision de novo. This standard of review recognizes that new 
evidence may be introduced during the hearing and allows the ALJ, as 
permitted under sec. 218(e)(1) of the INA, to review such evidence and 
other evidence introduced during the hearing de novo. See 8 U.S.C. 
1188(e)(1) (noting regulations shall provide for a de novo 
administrative hearing at the applicant's request). Similarly, the INA 
permits the ALJ to review the CO's decision de novo when the employer 
requests a de novo administrative hearing. See id. This is the standard 
of review under the INA, and the Department has codified it in the 
regulations so that the standard is clearly and consistently applied. 
As no comments were received regarding the standard of review, the 
Department has adopted the language as proposed.
    The Department has recognized that there may be instances when the 
issues to be resolved are purely legal, or when only limited factual 
matters are necessary to resolve the issues in the case. Paragraph 
(e)(2) has been revised to address this possibility and provide that 
the ALJ may resolve the issues following a hearing based only on the 
disputed factual issues, if any. Two commenters suggested that the 
proposed language would limit the issues an ALJ could review and 
adjudicate. This was not the intention, and the language in this rule 
simply codifies an already existing practice. Currently, the OALJ 
already relies on mechanisms, including, but not limited to, status 
conferences and pre-hearing exchanges, to determine which issues raised 
in the request for review can be resolved as a matter of law and which 
issues involve disputed material facts requiring the introduction of 
new evidence during a hearing. Should an ALJ determine that an issue is 
purely legal and does not contain disputed material facts to warrant a 
hearing, review must proceed under the standard and scope used in cases 
of administrative review. The wording of this language has been 
slightly revised in this final rule for clarity, but the substance 
remains the same as it was in the NPRM.
    The Department proposed and subsequently adopted language that 
states that if new evidence is submitted with a request for de novo 
hearing, and the ALJ determines that a hearing is warranted, the new 
evidence submitted with the request for review must be introduced 
during the hearing to be considered by the ALJ. This allows for the 
introduction of new evidence, and for the de novo review of that 
evidence by the ALJ, while ensuring new evidence submitted with a 
request for review is subject to the same procedures that apply to new 
evidence introduced during a hearing, such as the opportunity for 
cross-examination and rebuttal.
    Finally, as part of its efforts to conform this section with the 
appeals section in the H-2B regulations, the Department has moved the 
language that the ALJ must affirm, reverse, or modify the CO's 
decision, or remand to the CO for further action, except in cases over 
which the Secretary has assumed jurisdiction pursuant to 29 CFR 18.95, 
from proposed paragraph (e)(3) to proposed paragraph (e)(2), which 
addresses the standard and scope of review.
    In paragraph (e)(3), the Department has adopted changes regarding 
the issuance of the decision for a de novo hearing as proposed with 
only the one minor change. Paragraph (e)(3) had modified the 
individuals and entities that receive the ALJ's decision to align with 
the recipients of ALJ decisions under the H-2B regulations, namely, the 
employer, the CO, and counsel for the CO. See 20 CFR 655.61(f). In this 
final rule, the Department, in paragraph (e)(3), has added that 
employer's attorney or agent (if applicable) will also receive the 
decision.
g. Other Comments
    Finally, there were some general comments, which the Department 
addresses here. As discussed below, the Department has not made any 
changes in response to these comments. One commenter proposed that the 
CO be prohibited from denying applications that are similar to 
previously approved applications unless the CO provides notice to 
employers that, as the commenter characterized it, those previously 
approved temporary agricultural labor certifications could no longer be 
``relied upon'' for future applications. The Department declines to 
adopt this suggestion. The Department rejects the suggestion that 
previously approved applications mandate approval in the future. Each 
application for a temporary agricultural labor certification must be 
processed on its own merits, and each must be processed according to 
the time and place for which the job opportunity will take place. See 8 
U.S.C. 1188(a) and (b) (noting that a temporary agricultural labor 
certification certifies, among other things, that there are ``not 
sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will 
be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or 
services involved in the petition''). The regulatory appeals process 
provides an adequate opportunity for employers to seek review of the 
CO's decisions, as is required by statute. 8 U.S.C. 1188(e)(1). To the 
extent that this commenter alleged that previous applications may have 
been processed or adjudicated outside a regulatory timeline, such an 
allegation falls outside the scope of this rule to address specific 
prior applications or appeals.
    One commenter expressed concern that the Department would eliminate 
the opportunity to appeal from an ALJ's temporary agricultural labor 
certification decision to the Department's ARB. However, employers did 
not previously have the ability to appeal a temporary agricultural 
labor certification decision to the ARB, nor was such an option 
proposed in the NPRM.
    One commenter suggested that the Department establish a system by 
which employers could seek out advisory opinions, which could be 
adjudicated through the appellate system, and which would clarify the 
Department's interpretation of the regulations. This submitted comment 
is beyond the scope of the proposed rule and cannot be implemented 
through this regulatory rulemaking.
3. Section 655.172, Post-Certification Withdrawals
    The NPRM proposed technical amendments to this section to relocate 
the job order withdrawal provision from Sec.  655.172(a) to Sec.  
655.124, in addition to amendments to relocate the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification withdrawal provision from Sec.  
655.172(b) to Sec.  655.136, as discussed above in the preamble for 
those sections. The Department proposed to reorganize these withdrawal 
provisions so that, for example, the procedure for withdrawing the 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification is located in the 
section of the rule where an employer at that stage of the temporary 
agricultural labor certification process would look for such a 
provision. The Department also proposed language in this section 
reiterating current requirements that withdrawal does not nullify an 
employer's obligation to comply with all the terms and conditions of 
employment



under the certified Application for Temporary Employment Certification.
    The Department received no comments on the proposed amendments to 
reorganize the withdrawal provisions in the regulatory text. Therefore, 
this final rule adopts the proposed changes from the NPRM without 
change. Accordingly, an employer seeking withdrawal of a certified 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification must submit a 
withdrawal request, in writing, to the NPC. In the withdrawal request, 
the employer must identify the temporary agricultural labor 
certification to be withdrawn and state the reason(s) for the 
employer's request. Similar to the withdrawal provisions at Sec. Sec.  
655.124 and 655.136, this section adopts the proposed language to 
reiterate that the withdrawal of a temporary agricultural labor 
certification does not nullify an employer's obligations to comply with 
the terms and conditions of employment under the certification with 
respect to all workers recruited in connection with the application and 
job order.
    The Department received two comments stating that employers should 
not be bound to comply with obligations under the Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification and related job order after 
withdrawal, apparently without regard to the timing of withdrawal. 
These comments have already been addressed above in the section of the 
preamble related to Sec.  655.124.
4. Section 655.173, Setting Meal Charges; Petition for Higher Meal 
Charges
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section that contains 
the methodology for setting the annual rates at which an employer may 
charge workers for meals and the procedures by which an employer may 
request approval from the CO for a higher meal charge amount. The 
Department received a few comments related only to the proposal to 
establish a ceiling on the meal charge amount the CO may approve. As 
discussed in detail below and after carefully considering these 
comments, the Department has decided to largely adopt the regulatory 
text proposed in the NPRM, with revisions to remove language related to 
establishing a maximum higher meal charge amount.
    As provided in Sec.  655.122(g), employers must provide each worker 
three meals a day or furnish free and convenient cooking and kitchen 
facilities so that the worker can prepare meals. If an employer 
provides workers with three meals per day, rather than providing them 
with free and convenient cooking and kitchen facilities, the employer 
may not charge workers more than the allowable meal charge set by the 
Department's regulations at Sec.  655.173(a) for providing those meals, 
unless and until the CO authorizes the employer to charge a higher 
amount pursuant to Sec.  655.173(b).
    The Department proposed no changes to the existing methodology used 
to annually adjust the standard amount an employer may charge workers 
for providing them with three meals per day. The Department proposed to 
update the amount stated in paragraph (a) to reflect the current 
standard meal charge amount in effect (i.e., $14.00 per day) and to 
more clearly characterize it as the starting point for future annual 
updates. 85 FR 16133 (Mar. 20, 2020). In addition, the Department 
proposed to make the annual adjustments effective on a date no more 
than 14 calendar days after publication in the Federal Register, to 
provide employers a brief period for adjustment to the updated rate, 
consistent with the Department's proposed approach to wage rate 
updates. See, e.g., Sec.  655.120(b)(3). The Department did not receive 
comments on these revisions to paragraph (a). However, consistent with 
the Department's reasoning and decision not to adopt an adjustment 
period of up to 14 calendar days for both AEWR updates and prevailing 
wage updates, the Department has not adopted the proposed adjustment 
period for meal charge updates. Therefore, apart from a grammatical 
edit and removal of the proposed 14-day adjustment period, the 
Department has adopted paragraph (a) without change in this final rule.
    In paragraph (b), the Department proposed to retain the basic 
process an employer may follow to petition the CO for authorization to 
charge workers more than the standard meal charge set under paragraph 
(a), with revisions for clarity and to address situations in which an 
employer's higher meal charge petition is based on its use of a third 
party to provide meals to workers (e.g., hiring a food truck to prepare 
and deliver meals or engaging restaurants near the housing or place of 
employment to provide meals). In paragraph (b)(1), the Department 
clarified that the CO will deny the employer's petition, in whole or in 
part, if the documentation the employer submits to the CO does not 
justify the higher meal charge requested, with paragraph (c) retaining 
the employer's option to appeal.
    In paragraph (b)(1)(i), the Department retained the 2010 H-2A Final 
Rule's documentation requirements for employers that directly provide 
meals to workers (i.e., through its own kitchen facilities and cooks), 
with clarification that the employer's documentation must include only 
permitted costs. The Department proposed a new paragraph (b)(1)(ii) to 
address documentation requirements applicable to employers that provide 
meals to workers through a third party. Specifically, the employer's 
documentation must identify each third party engaged to prepare meals, 
describe how the employer's agreement with each third party will 
fulfill the employer's obligation to provide three meals a day to 
workers, and document each third party's charges to the employer for 
the meals to be provided. The employer must retain records of payments 
to the third party and deductions from a worker's pay, as provided in 
Sec.  655.167(b). Finally, the employer, or anyone affiliated with the 
employer, is prohibited from receiving a direct or indirect benefit 
from a higher meal charge to a worker. The Department did not receive 
comments on these proposals and is adopting them without change in this 
final rule.
    In paragraph (b)(2), the Department clarified the effective date 
and scope of validity of an approved higher meal charge petition. In 
addition to waiting for the CO's approval, which may specify a later 
effective date, an employer must disclose to workers any change in the 
meal charge or deduction before it may begin charging the higher rate. 
Further, the Department clarified that the CO's approval of a higher 
meal charge is valid only for the meal provision arrangement presented 
in the higher meal charge petition and only for the meal charge amount 
the CO approved. If the approved meal provision arrangement changes, 
the employer would not be permitted to charge workers more than the 
standard meal charge set under paragraph (a) until the employer 
repeated the higher meal charge petition process for the new meal 
provision arrangement and received the CO's authorization to charge a 
higher amount. The Department did not receive comments on these 
revisions and is adopting them without change in this final rule.
    Finally, the Department also proposed to reintroduce an objective 
ceiling on meal charges through a maximum higher meal charge amount. In 
part, the Department thought an upper limit on meal charges could help 
to ensure that an employer's choice to engage a third party to provide 
three meals a day to workers would not unreasonably reduce workers' 
wages. The maximum higher meal charge amount the Department proposed 
was derived from the last



maximum allowable higher meal charge amount published in the Federal 
Register and effective in 2008, updated using the same methodology as 
in paragraph (a). The Department invited comments on methods for 
processing and evaluating higher meal charge requests involving third 
party prepared meals, including alternative methods for determining and 
updating a higher meal charge ceiling that would not inhibit the 
provision of sufficient, adequate meals and will not reduce workers' 
wages without justification.
    The Department received several comments from trade associations, 
agents, and an employer that expressed strong opposition to the 
proposal to impose a ceiling for higher meal charge petitions. The 
commenters generally viewed the ceiling as ``artificial.'' Some 
expressed concern that the maximum rate proposed would often be below 
actual meal costs, with one asserting that such a limitation would 
result in some employers providing smaller and lower quality meals to 
their workers to stay within budget. Another agent saw no added benefit 
from a maximum amount because higher meal charge requests are subject 
to the CO's approval, so there is no need to place an arbitrary limit 
on the CO's discretion. The Department did not receive comments 
suggesting alternative methods to determine an appropriate higher meal 
charge limitation.
    After consideration of the comments received, the Department has 
decided not to adopt the proposed ceiling on the meal charge amount the 
CO may approve and, therefore, has revised paragraphs (b) introductory 
text and (b)(1) to remove language related to a maximum higher meal 
charge amount. The Department appreciates and shares commenters' 
concerns that the proposal would not adequately account for various 
factors that could influence the costs of employer-provided meals, such 
as the variance of food costs across localities or the need to 
accommodate a worker's dietary restrictions, and could result in 
employers providing smaller and lower quality meals to their workers to 
stay within budget in certain circumstances. The Department also agrees 
the proposal would have placed an unnecessarily rigid limitation on the 
CO's discretion and might have prevented the CO from approving higher 
meal charge requests even in cases where the employer provides ample 
documentation of actual costs, compelling justification for the higher 
meal charge, and solid evidence the employer could not have provided 
adequate meals at a lower cost.
    The Department has therefore determined that the reasonable 
approach, at this time, is to allow the CO to determine whether to 
approve higher meal charge petitions, on a case-by-case basis, based on 
the CO's evaluation of the employer's documentation. Particularly in 
meal arrangements involving third-party preparers, the CO will consider 
whether the employer has demonstrated it cannot provide the required 
meals for the standard costs permitted by paragraph (a) and the higher 
meal charge requested, based on the meal provision arrangements 
presented in the petition, is necessary, not merely convenient or a 
means of reducing an employer's housing costs (e.g., when motel rooms 
with kitchenettes are available at a higher rate). In administering 
this final rule, the Department will continue to consider ways to best 
protect workers from improper deductions, while also providing 
sufficient discretion to the CO and adequately accounting for the 
various factors that may influence the cost of employer-provided meals.
    One State government commenter reiterated a comment submitted in 
connection with the meal provision obligation at Sec.  655.122, stating 
that even where an employer provides three meals per day that satisfy 
minimum Federal standards, a worker may need to supplement those meals 
through individually purchased and stored food to satisfy nutritional 
and caloric needs and urging the Department to allow this practice. A 
pattern of workers finding it necessary to supplement employer-provided 
meals might suggest that the employer's meals are insufficient and its 
meal provision arrangement should be reevaluated. However, where an 
employer is providing sufficient meals and workers wish to supplement 
those meals with additional food (e.g., snacks), the Department notes 
that nothing in the regulations prohibits or prevents workers from 
purchasing, storing, and eating food not provided by the employer.
5. Section 655.174, Public Disclosure
    The NPRM did not propose changes to the longstanding practice of 
providing publicly accessible information about users of the H-2A 
program on the OFLC website. Therefore, this final rule retains the 
current requirements.
6. Section 655.175, Post-Certification Amendments
    The 2010 H-2A Final Rule does not permit amendments to an 
application after the CO issues a Final Determination. Thus an employer 
that experiences changed circumstances after certification is required 
to submit a new and substantially similar Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification and job order. The NPRM proposed to add a new 
provision permitting an employer to request minor amendments to the 
places of employment listed in the certified Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification and job order under limited circumstances and 
subject to certain conditions. The proposal was intended to recognize 
that an employer may experience changed circumstances, wholly outside 
of their control, after certification, necessitating adjustments to 
certain aspects of the anticipated work plan. The Department's proposed 
provision would have allowed for narrowly tailored post-certification 
amendments to alleviate the burdens with filing and processing a new 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification and provide 
employers with a certain degree of flexibility to more quickly respond 
to changing needs, without compromising the H-2A program's integrity or 
changing the terms and conditions of employment to which the employer 
already attested. The Department received a significant number of 
comments on this provision. After careful consideration of comments, 
the Department has decided not to adopt the proposed post-certification 
amendments provision at Sec.  655.175, as discussed in detail below.
    The majority of comments from employers, associations, and agents 
that addressed the proposed post-certification amendment provision 
expressed general support and viewed this provision as a practical, 
reasonable administrative improvement that would simplify the H-2A 
program, reduce burdens on employers by providing flexibility to 
accommodate changed circumstances after certification within limits 
appropriate to protect program integrity, and improve the accuracy of 
information available to the Department regarding worker location, 
especially in the case of workers that travel from site to site when 
employed by FLCs or itinerant employers. An agent explained that 
requiring an employer to file a new application to add a place of 
employment within the certified AIE is burdensome and restrictive 
because the employer has already completed a labor market test for that 
area and the period of need. Several of the comments provided examples 
of the types of circumstances in which a post-certification amendment 
would help producers stay in compliance with the



rule while adapting to on-the-ground conditions. For example, 
situations like late snow, drought, or excessive rain may prevent 
access to rangeland, or wildfire or drought may alter or eliminate 
vegetation on the rangeland, such that ranchers must relocate herds, on 
short notice, to other rangeland with vegetation of sufficient quality 
and quantity available for grazing. Other examples commenters cited 
included severe adverse weather, changes in vegetative growing 
conditions, sudden presence of predators, disaster situations, and 
unanticipated planting to replace lost crops. An agent requested the 
Department include examples, unrelated to weather, constituting good 
and substantial cause. Commenters provided non-weather examples 
including wildfires, predators, and inability to access certain 
locations due to route conditions, which are discussed above.
    The Department also received a significant number of comments from 
workers' rights advocacy organizations, labor unions, State agencies, 
and elected officials expressing concerns about the proposed post-
certification amendments provision. Commenters expressed concern that 
this provision would provide employers with unilateral ability to make 
mid-season changes to the terms and conditions of employment, which 
they asserted is unfair to workers who are not able to negotiate or 
appeal changes made after the job begins. These commenters also 
expressed concerns that the proposal might jeopardize the labor market 
test, create occupational instability, complicate wage determinations, 
hinder the work of workers' rights advocacy organizations, lead to 
worker exploitation, disadvantage employers that do not employ H-2A 
workers, and result in employer abuse of the attestation-based process.
    In response to the Department's request for comments on ways to 
balance employers' need to adapt quickly to changed circumstances with 
the Department's need to protect program integrity, a workers' rights 
advocacy organization asserted that the timeline for processing an 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification is already short 
enough to accommodate an employer's need to adapt to changing 
circumstances. The commenter asserted the proposal would violate the 
Department's statutory obligation by relying on employer assurances 
that they met all program requirements, including those vital to 
workers' rights (e.g., workers' compensation and wage rate for a new 
State). Two U.S. Senators requested the Department abandon the 
proposal, asserting the Department can balance its goals within the 
current regulatory framework, specifically the pre-certification 
amendment provision at Sec.  655.145 and the emergency situations 
waiver provision at Sec.  655.134. In contrast, a few trade 
associations thought the proposal was sufficiently limited to allow 
employers to react quickly to unforeseen circumstances without 
compromising the integrity of the temporary agricultural labor 
certification.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization asserted that the 
Department had not provided sufficient data or rationale to explain how 
this proposal furthers regulatory or statutory goals. This commenter 
also stated that even if the employer provides a copy of the amended 
temporary agricultural labor certification to workers, H-2A workers who 
are told to work at different worksites, possibly in different States, 
may not be certain that the work is permitted under their H-2A visa. 
This commenter also believed the proposed post-certification amendment 
process would be abused by H-2ALCs and would permit employers to use 
the process as a ``tool to further their illegal preference for H-2A 
workers.''
    Some commenters asserted the proposal conflicted with workers' need 
to know the job terms before accepting an H-2A job opportunity, which 
could negatively affect U.S. workers' access to jobs and deter them 
from applying. Two U.S. Senators and one of the workers' rights 
advocacy organizations asserted the employment of foreign workers at 
worksites not disclosed to U.S. workers would not only disadvantage 
U.S. workers, but may increase the risk of exploitation, trafficking, 
and labor abuses. The senators further asserted that, in conjunction 
with the Department's proposal to determine the AEWR for specific 
occupations, post-certification amendments to worksites would 
unnecessarily complicate wages for employers and workers, greatly 
increasing the risk of workers being paid an incorrect wage. The 
senators also believed the proposal unnecessarily increased the 
administrative burden on employers and defeated the Department's 
objective of simplifying the H-2A program.
    Some commenters viewed post-certification changes to worksites as 
compounding their general concerns about the labor market test, the 
proposed option for staggered start dates, and the proposed 30-day 
period replacing the 50 percent rule. Two workers' rights advocacy 
organizations expressed concern the proposal did not require additional 
recruitment. One of the commenters asserted workers must know where 
they will be required to work in order to assess housing, 
transportation, terrain, facilities, quality of crops, and other 
factors that affect workers' interest in potential employment. This 
commenter expressed particular concern about situations in which the 
certified AIE crosses State lines because the proposal would not 
require the employer to conduct additional positive recruitment in the 
new State or allow the SWA in the new State to evaluate the job order 
and availability of workers, which it feared would result in lost job 
opportunities for U.S. workers.
    A State governor expressed concern the proposal could create 
hardships for U.S. workers who have to find their way to the new 
worksite or risk being fired, which they believed would be a particular 
concern in a situation where the employer has a ``no rehire policy'' 
and might invoke the policy to refuse to hire those workers who had to 
quit or were fired for refusing to report to an additional work 
location. One of the workers' rights advocacy organization commenters 
expressed concern about U.S. workers who might lose jobs at the added 
place of employment, such as former workers with seniority at that 
worksite who might not be contacted to determine whether they are 
available for the job. The commenter expressed particular concern about 
situations in which an H-2ALC adds a place of employment where workers 
were directly hired by the farmer in prior years.
    A State governor and one of the workers' rights advocacy 
organizations feared that the proposal would permit misuse of the 
program by employers, such as reforestation contractors, employing 
workers in many locations, because these employers might test the labor 
market in one AIE, but actually employ workers in another area. The 
governor further expressed concern the proposal would not provide the 
SWA sufficient time to test the labor market for domestic workers in 
the new locations because amendments to worksites after certification 
would require changes to the job order in the SWA system, as well as 
changes to recruitment posters and advertising that the SWA creates to 
notify the community of the jobs available. The governor also noted 
domestic workers at the new locations will need to be made aware of the 
change in order to know if they are in corresponding employment under 
the H-2A certification.
    In addition to comments expressing support or opposition to the 
proposed



post-certification amendments, the Department received several comments 
requesting specific changes to the proposal or suggesting alternatives 
to one or more aspects of the proposal. Comments from employers, 
associations, and agents generally urged the Department to expand the 
scope of post-certification amendments, ease the proposed restrictions 
on the amendments, and clarify requirements for approval of amendment 
requests. Some commenters mistakenly believed the provision would 
permit employers to increase the number of workers and add work 
locations after certification as they acquire additional work (e.g., 
new contracts or fields) in the normal course of business. Several 
commenters also urged the Department to provide additional guidance and 
clarity regarding various aspects of the proposed provision. An 
international recruitment company asked the Department to define more 
clearly the terms ``minor changes,'' ``good and substantial cause,'' 
``circumstance(s) underlying the request,'' ``reasonably foreseen,'' 
``wholly outside the employer's control,'' and ``material terms and 
conditions.'' An agent and two farm owners urged the Department to be 
flexible in evaluating ``good and substantial cause,'' expressing 
concern that if an employer's burden of proof is too high it could 
render post-certification amendments unworkable. One of these 
commenters believed the Department should apply a more flexible 
definition of ``good and substantial cause'' than it applies to 
emergency situation requests under Sec.  655.134.
    Regarding the time provided for the CO to review these requests, 
several commenters simply stated post-certification amendment requests 
should be processed as quickly as possible or otherwise without delay. 
An international recruiting company suggested employers submit real-
time updates regarding the workers' location to the NPC, rather than 
submitting individual requests and waiting up to 3 days for CO 
approval. In contrast, a workers' rights advocacy organization opposed 
the proposed 3-business-day review period, asserting this would not 
provide sufficient time to review the request and assess the effect on 
the labor market test.
    The Department also received comments addressing time limitations 
on post-certification amendment requests. A workers' rights advocacy 
organization argued if the Department adopts a post-certification 
amendment provision, the amendments must be limited to a post-
certification time period shorter than 30 days after certification, the 
shortest period the Department mentioned as an option in the NPRM. An 
individual commenter suggested the Department either permit post-
certification amendments until 50 percent of the work contract period 
has elapsed or extend the employer's hiring obligation to 30 days after 
any amendment to the temporary agricultural labor certification. In 
contrast, a few trade associations urged the Department to permit 
employers ``ample'' time to submit post-certification amendments 
requests because the circumstances necessitating these amendments are 
not bound by any regulatory limit and can happen at any time.
    After careful consideration of all comments, as stated above, the 
Department has decided not to adopt the post-certification amendment 
provision in this final rule. Although the Department did not intend 
for the proposed provision to have permitted post-certification 
amendments that changed the terms and conditions of employment (e.g., 
adding places of employment in a different AIE than certified), the 
Department recognizes commenters' concerns. The Department is sensitive 
to the concerns about the potential for changed terms and conditions of 
employment and ensuring U.S. workers' access to job opportunities. The 
Department agrees that permitting employers to add places of employment 
beyond the AIE and the States certified would change the terms and 
conditions of employment without CO review, could permit employers to 
use the post-certification amendment process in a way that undermines 
the Department's underlying finding regarding U.S. worker availability, 
and could require the employer to secure additional documentation of 
the type that would have been subject to the CO's review during 
application processing (e.g., evidence of workers' compensation 
compliance in the new State and, potentially, housing). These types of 
changes are beyond the scope of what the Department believes is 
appropriate to permit under a post-certification, expedited review 
process. The Department appreciates the concerns of a workers' rights 
advocacy organization and State governor regarding potential job losses 
for workers with seniority at that worksite who might not be contacted 
to determine whether they are available for the job and workers who may 
be unable or unwilling to report to a new worksite. The Department 
agrees an effective post-certification amendment provision should 
require the employer to contact former U.S. workers for each added 
place of employment and solicit their return to the job opportunity and 
that the post-certification amendment process may require a carefully 
tailored expedited process to guarantee employers engage in such 
contact. The Department also appreciates and agrees with commenters' 
concern about the necessity of providing sufficient time to assess the 
effect of the amendment on the labor market test. Finally, the 
Department appreciates the State governor's comment expressing concern 
regarding the process for apprising corresponding workers at new 
worksites of their rights and protections and the Department agrees 
that an effective post-certification amendment provision must more 
clearly address employers' obligation to reevaluate whether its workers 
are engaged in corresponding employment and timely disclose to workers 
approved amendments to the work contract, in compliance with Sec.  
655.122(q).
    While the Department understands the importance of providing 
flexibilities that permit employers and associations to quickly respond 
to exigent circumstances requiring minor amendments to places of 
employment after their applications are certified, the Department has 
determined that the proposal would require significant revisions to 
provide greater clarity to employers and ensure post-certification 
amendments do not adversely affect workers similarly employed in the 
AIE and those U.S. workers seeking employment. In light of the 
substantial and numerous commenter concerns, the Department does not 
believe the proposal, even with significant revisions, will satisfy the 
policy considerations underlying this final rule. Notwithstanding, as 
noted by the U.S. Senators and workers' rights advocacy organization 
commenters, the Department agrees that the existing regulations already 
provide a limited degree of flexibility to employers to react to 
exigencies and changing circumstances. Accordingly, the Department 
declines to adopt the proposal in the NPRM at this time. Under this 
final rule, as under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, the employer may request 
certain amendments under the provisions set forth at Sec.  655.145, in 
situations where the employer could foresee the need for amendment 
after filing, but prior to the CO issuing a Final Determination, and, 
if necessary, may file a new Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification, using the emergency situations procedures at



Sec.  655.134 to address changes not permitted under Sec.  655.145. For 
example, if unusually heavy storms and rains occur after the employer 
submits its Application for Temporary Employment Certification, the 
employer can assess impacts on crop conditions and its temporary need 
and may determine it is appropriate to reduce staffing levels for the 
job opportunity described on the pending Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification and file an emergency situation Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification to address its need for labor or 
services under the new circumstances at other place(s) of employment or 
with adjusted duties.
    The Department will continue to consider how best to accommodate 
the needs of employers to make minor post-certification amendments to 
places of employment due to unforeseen circumstances over which the 
employer has no control, while also sufficiently limiting the scope of 
these amendments to ensure employers provide effective notice of job 
opportunities to non-H-2A workers--both former U.S. workers and workers 
in corresponding employment at each place of employment added to the 
temporary agricultural labor certification--and guarantee changes to 
specific work locations are minimal for workers, terms and conditions 
of employment remain unchanged, and the underlying labor market test 
for the AIE remains valid for the certification.

H. Integrity Measures

1. Section 655.180, Audit
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to this section to clarify the 
procedures by which OFLC conducts audits of applications for which 
temporary agricultural labor certifications have been granted. The 
Department received a few comments on this provision, none of which 
necessitated changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed 
below, this provision remains unchanged from the NPRM.
    The Department proposed five revisions to this section in the NPRM. 
First, the Department proposed revisions to paragraphs (b)(1) and (2) 
to clarify that audit letters will specify the documentation that 
employers must submit to the NPC, and that such documentation must be 
sent to the NPC not later than the due date specified in the audit 
letter, which will be no more than 30 calendar days from the date the 
audit letter is issued. Second, in paragraph (b)(2), the Department 
proposed to revise the timeliness measure from the date the NPC 
receives the employer's audit response to the date the employer submits 
its audit response. This change is more consistent with other filing 
requirements contained in this final rule and better ensures employers' 
ability to timely submit their responses. Third, the Department 
proposed to revise paragraph (b)(3) to clarify that partial audit 
compliance does not prevent revocation or debarment. Rather, employers 
must fully comply with the audit process in order to avoid revocation 
under Sec.  655.181(a)(3) or debarment under Sec.  655.182(d)(1)(vi) 
based on a finding that the employer impeded the audit. Fourth, the 
Department proposed to add language to paragraph (c) to codify the 
current practice of a CO issuing more than one request, and sometimes 
multiple requests, for supplemental information if the circumstances 
warrant. This practice ensures that employers have every opportunity to 
comply fully with audit requests and that the CO's audit findings are 
based on the best record possible. Finally, the Department proposed 
revisions in paragraph (d) to clarify the referrals a CO may make as a 
result of audit, including updating the name of the office within the 
DOJ, Civil Rights Division, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section, that 
will receive referrals related to discrimination against eligible U.S. 
workers.
    The Department received two comments expressing general support for 
the proposed changes and one comment suggesting that only WHD conduct 
audit examinations of certified Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification. Although the Department appreciates the suggestion, the 
NPRM did not propose changes related to which agency would conduct 
audit examinations. Therefore, this suggestion is outside the scope of 
this rulemaking.
2. Section 655.181, Revocation
    The NPRM proposed minor amendments to paragraph (b)(2) of this 
section to clarify that if an employer does not appeal a Final 
Determination to revoke a temporary agricultural labor certification 
according to the procedures in proposed Sec.  655.171, that 
determination will become the final agency action. The Department 
proposed to remove language referring to the timeline for filing an 
appeal, as that information was provided in proposed Sec.  655.171. The 
Department received some comments generally supporting these proposals, 
and no comments in opposition. However, as explained below, the 
Department has decided not to adopt the proposed revisions in this 
final rule.
    The proposed deletion of paragraph (b)(2)'s current 10-calendar-day 
timeline for appealing, combined with the proposed retention of 
paragraph (b)(2)'s reference to the appeal procedures of Sec.  655.171, 
would have resulted in an unintended change in paragraph (b)(2)'s 
appeal timeline. The Department did not intend to change any of the 
current timelines in paragraph (b). This final rule therefore retains 
the timelines stated in current paragraphs (b)(1) and (2), both of 
which now reference paragraph (b)(3). Paragraph (b)(3), in turn, 
retains a reference to the appeal procedures of Sec.  655.171, but now 
clarifies that while the appeal procedures of Sec.  655.171 apply to 
any appeals filed under paragraph (b)(1) or (2), the timelines to file 
an appeal, as stated in paragraphs (b)(1) and (2), continue to apply.
    Additionally, the Department has removed language from the proposed 
paragraph (b)(3), stating that the ALJ's decision is the final agency 
action, in light of an intervening change to the current paragraph 
(b)(3). As discussed elsewhere, between the publication of the 2019 
proposed rule at 84 FR 36168 and this final rule, the Department 
published Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary (85 FR 
30608), which affected the language of this section. The current 
iteration of Sec.  655.181(b)(3), with the changes made by the Rules 
Concerning Discretionary Review by the Secretary, is different than the 
iteration of Sec.  655.181(b)(3) that was in effect when the NPRM was 
published. Specifically, the Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by 
the Secretary removed the language in paragraph (b)(3) that stated the 
decision of the ALJ was the final decision of the Secretary, consistent 
with the principle that the Secretary could assume jurisdiction over a 
de novo appeal pursuant to 29 CFR 18.95. Section 655.171 of this final 
rule contains language implementing that principle, which Sec.  
655.181(b)(3), in turn, incorporates by stating that the appeal 
procedures of Sec.  655.171 apply.



3. Section 655.182, Debarment; 29 CFR 501.16, Sanctions and Remedies--
General; 29 CFR 501.19, Civil Money Penalty Assessment; 29 CFR 501.20, 
Debarment and Revocation; 29 CFR 501.21, Failure To Cooperate With 
Investigations; 29 CFR 501.41, Decision and Order of Administrative Law 
Judge; 29 CFR 501.42, Procedures for Initiating and Undertaking Review; 
29 CFR 501.43, Responsibility of the Office of Administrative Law 
Judges; 29 CFR 501.44, Additional Information, if Required; and 29 CFR 
501.45, Decision of the Administrative Review Board
    The NPRM proposed amendments to the debarment provision in Sec.  
655.182 to improve integrity and compliance with program requirements, 
and to establish consistency in holding program violators accountable 
among the H-2A regulations and the other labor certification programs 
administered by the Department. The NPRM also proposed amendments to 
WHD's debarment provision at 29 CFR 501.20 to conform with the proposed 
changes to 20 CFR 655.182(a) regarding the ability to debar an agent or 
attorney, and their successors in interest, based on the agent's or 
attorney's own substantial violations. The Department received some 
comments on these provisions, none of which necessitated substantive 
changes to the regulatory text. As noted above, the Department has 
revised Sec.  655.182(h) to confirm its approach to debarment of 
associations, employer-members of associations, and joint employers. 
Therefore, as discussed below, these provisions remain substantively 
unchanged from the NPRM.
    The Department proposed to revise Sec.  655.182 to clarify that if 
an employer, agent, or attorney is debarred from participation in the 
H-2A program, the employer, agent, or attorney, or their successors in 
interest, may not file future Applications for Temporary Employment 
Certification during the period of debarment. Under the proposal, if 
such an application is filed, the Department will deny the application 
without review, rather than issuing a NOD before denying the 
application, as it does under the current regulations.
    The Department also proposed to revise Sec.  655.182 to allow for 
the debarment of agents or attorneys, and their successors in interest, 
based on their own misconduct. Since the 2008 H-2A Final Rule, the H-2A 
regulations have allowed the Department to debar an agent or attorney 
based on its participation in the employer's substantial violation. See 
Sec.  655.182(b); 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884, 6936-6937; 2008 H-
2A Final Rule, 73 FR 77110, 77188. As explained in the NPRM, the 
proposed revisions would allow the Department to hold agents and 
attorneys of the employer accountable for their own substantial 
violation(s), as well as for their participation in the employer's 
substantial violation(s), as that term is defined in Sec.  655.182(d). 
The Department also proposed conforming revisions to the definition of 
``successor in interest'' in Sec.  655.103(b) to reflect that a 
debarred agent's or attorney's successor in interest may be held liable 
for the debarred agent's or attorney's violation. The Department has 
adopted these changes as proposed. However, the Department has made one 
additional, minor revision to Sec.  655.182(b), consistent with 
revisions to Sec.  655.103(b), to clarify that neither a debarred 
employer, agent or attorney, nor a successor in interest to a debarred 
employer, agent or attorney may file an H-2A application.
    The Department received one comment expressing support for the 
first proposal and several comments expressing general support for the 
second. Some commenters expressed concern, however, that the Department 
would not seek to debar the employer where the Department is pursuing 
debarment of an agent or attorney based on the agent's or attorney's 
own misconduct. The Department believes these concerns are misplaced. 
Under the changes adopted in this final rule, the Department may pursue 
debarment against the agent or attorney for their own misconduct in 
those rare instances where the Department determines the agent or 
attorney commits a substantial violation that the Department finds it 
cannot or, in its discretion, should not, attribute to the employer. 
The Department anticipates that, in most instances, it would be 
appropriate to debar the employer as well as the agent or attorney, 
because the ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance with the 
program rests with the participating employer.
    Some agent commenters objected to statements in the NPRM that 
expressed the Department's concern with the role of agents in the H-2A 
program. The Department's intent was simply to note that, in its 
experience, the participation of agents in the program can, but 
certainly does not always, undermine program compliance.
    The Department received several other comments about the debarment 
provisions that were unrelated to the changes the NPRM proposed, and 
therefore are beyond the scope of the current rulemaking. For instance, 
some employer and employer association commenters requested changes to 
ease the standard for debarment, such as requesting a de minimis 
exception from the kinds of violations that would lead to debarment 
from the H-2A program. Save for the addition of an H-2ALC's failure to 
submit an original surety bond at Sec.  655.182(d)(2) (discussed in the 
surety bond section above), the Department proposed no changes to the 
kinds of violations that are sufficient to warrant debarment, and thus 
the Department cannot consider this recommendation in the current 
rulemaking. The Department notes, however, that the Department 
considers debarment only in the case of substantial violations, as 
required by the statute. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(b)(2)(A).
    Another commenter opposed shared debarment authority between WHD 
and OFLC. This comment is outside the scope of the current rulemaking, 
as the NPRM did not propose changes to the Department's longstanding 
practice, reflected in the associated regulations, that both WHD and 
OFLC have debarment authority.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization commented that the proposed 
changes were insufficient to address perceived shortcomings to the H-2A 
debarment procedures. Specifically, the commenter noted a need to 
improve the debarment procedures' treatment of successors in interest 
and cited specific enforcement efforts as demonstrative of the 
limitations of the regulation's current provision. The commenter also 
advocated that the Department's debarment procedures should promote 
employee participation in WHD investigations. The Department 
appreciates these comments but notes that the suggestions are not 
within the scope of the current rulemaking, as the Department did not 
propose any changes to the debarment procedures generally. As noted 
above, however, the Department proposed and is adopting as final 
conforming revisions to the definition of ``successors in interest'' in 
Sec.  655.103(b) to reflect the changes detailed above.

I. Labor Certification Process for Temporary Agricultural Employment in 
Range Sheep Herding, Goat Herding, and Production of Livestock 
Operations

    The NPRM proposed amendments to certain provisions in this section 
largely to conform the labor certification process for temporary 
agricultural employment in range sheep herding, goat herding, and 
production of livestock operations to other changes proposed in the 
NPRM. The Department



received many comments on this section; the vast majority of which were 
outside the scope of this rulemaking and none of which necessitated 
substantive changes to the regulatory text. Therefore, as discussed in 
detail below, the provisions contained in this section remain unchanged 
from the NPRM except for minor technical or clarifying changes.
1. Modernizing Recruitment Requirements
    Between the publication of the 2019 proposed rule at 84 FR 36168 
and this final rule, the Department published the 2019 H-2A Recruitment 
Final Rule that amended Sec.  655.225 by removing paragraph (d) and 
redesignating paragraph (e) as paragraph (d). This final rule 
incorporates those changes.
2. Regulatory Revisions Implemented by This Final Rule
    As proposed in the NPRM, the Department has revised Sec. Sec.  
655.200 through 655.235 to conform to the other revisions in this final 
rule. Minor changes include replacing a dash between two sections with 
the word ``through'' (e.g., replacing ``Sec. Sec.  655.200-655.235'' 
with ``Sec. Sec.  655.200 through 655.235'') for technical consistency 
with other sections of this final rule. The Department received no 
comments regarding these minor changes, or the substantive changes 
discussed below, and therefore has adopted all proposed revisions in 
Sec. Sec.  655.200 through 655.235. Aside from technical changes, the 
Department has made one minor change to the proposed text in Sec.  
655.215(b)(1), which is discussed further below.
    The Department has revised Sec.  655.205 to reflect revisions to 
the normal job order filing procedures in Sec.  655.121 and to clarify 
variances from Sec.  655.121 that remain for job opportunities 
involving herding or production of livestock on the range.
    In addition, consistent with the Department's reasoning and 
decision not to adopt the transition period for an employer to 
implement a new higher AEWR proposed in Sec.  655.120(b), the 
Department did not adopt similar transition period language proposed in 
Sec.  655.211(a)(2). The final rule requires an employer to start 
paying the higher rate on the effective date published in the Federal 
Register. The Department has also added the phrase ``at least'' to 
Sec.  655.211 to clarify that employers must pay at least the rate 
required by the regulations, but as the regulations are meant to 
provide a minimum, employers may of course choose to offer and pay a 
higher rate. The phrase also provides consistency with Sec. Sec.  
655.120 and 655.210(g).
    The Department has also simplified and revised Sec.  655.215(b) 
introductory text and (b)(1) to conform to other revisions in this 
final rule. In paragraph (b) introductory text, detailed language about 
additional required information is obsolete, as the job order Form ETA-
790/790A addenda include data fields for employers to provide detailed 
information about the job opportunity. The obsolete language was 
removed.
    As the language promulgated in the Department's 2015 H-2A Herder 
Final Rule could have been interpreted to permit an Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification for herding or production of 
livestock on the range to cover multiple AIEs in more than two 
contiguous States but not a smaller geographic area, such as multiple 
AIEs within one State, the Department has included one minor change to 
language in paragraph (b)(1) for clarity. See 2015 H-2A Herder Final 
Rule, 80 FR 62958, 62998, 63068. Specifically, an Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification may cover multiple AIEs in one 
State, or multiple AIEs in two or more contiguous States. Accordingly, 
the text in this final rule has been revised to make clear that an 
``Application For Temporary Employment Certification and job order may 
cover multiple [AIEs] in one or more contiguous States,'' as opposed to 
saying ``and one or more contiguous [S]tates'' as originally proposed 
(emphasis added).
    Trade associations, an agent, and individual employers suggested 
removing the ``contiguous State'' restriction, stating that this 
limitation hinders access to job opportunities. However, the 
Department's proposed revisions for this subpart were meant to serve as 
clarification only, and the Department did not propose substantive 
changes to the regulatory requirements. Therefore, the comments 
requesting that the Department remove the ``contiguous State'' 
restriction are outside the scope of this rulemaking.
    In addition to minor revisions to Sec.  655.220(b) and (c) for 
consistency within this final rule, the Department has revised 
paragraph (b) to reflect the centralization of job order dissemination 
from the NPC to the SWAs as set forth in Sec.  655.121. Consistent with 
Sec.  655.121, after the content of a job order for herding or 
production of livestock on the range has been approved, the NPC will 
transmit the job order to all applicable SWAs to begin recruitment. The 
Department also recently rescinded, in the separate 2021 H-2A Herder 
Final Rule, the 364-day provision that governed the adjudication of 
temporary need for employers of sheep and goat herders (Sec.  
655.215(b)(2)) to ensure the Department's adjudication of temporary or 
seasonal need is conducted in the same manner for all H-2A 
applications. The text at Sec.  655.215(b)(2) in this rule has been 
updated to reflect this recission.
    Finally, the Department has made minor revisions in Sec.  
655.225(b) and (d) to simplify the language and reflect procedural 
changes made elsewhere in this final rule, such as revisions to the 
duration of the recruitment period at Sec.  655.135(d).
3. Other Comments
    A significant number of comments from a trade association, 
individual employers, and other commenters urged the Department to 
reconsider the wage rate methodology for herding and range livestock 
opportunities. However, the Department explicitly stated in the NPRM 
that it was not reconsidering, and therefore not seeking public comment 
on, this wage rate methodology. 84 FR 36168, 36220-36221. As a result, 
the comments regarding the wage rate methodology for herding and range 
livestock job opportunities are outside the scope of this rulemaking 
and will not be addressed further.
    An immigration advocacy group, trade associations, and individual 
employers and other commenters expressed concerns and suggested changes 
regarding housing, the frequency of record keeping, the frequency of 
pay for employees, and the cost and profitability of business. A trade 
association and individual employers offered a number of suggested 
changes, which included the Department putting all forms and procedures 
online, providing for reimbursement for in-bound travel, allowing for a 
wage credit, and removing overtime pay statutes for sheepherders. 
However, the Department did not propose changes regarding these 
substantive issues and, thus, the comments are outside the scope of 
this rulemaking. With regard to removing or exempting specific 
occupations from statutory requirements, the suggestion would require a 
legislative change.
    Other comments from a trade association, a State agricultural 
department, and individual employers and other commenters were general 
in nature and discussed the industry overall and expressed concern 
about the viability of their businesses moving forward. The Department 
understands the industry has concerns; however, these aforementioned 
comments and



suggestions are not within the scope of this rulemaking.

J. Labor Certification Process for Temporary Agricultural Employment in 
Animal Shearing, Commercial Beekeeping, and Custom Combining

1. Section 655.300, Scope and Purpose
    The NPRM proposed to establish certain variances to the procedures 
for temporary agricultural labor certification for employers who seek 
to hire H-2A workers in animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, and 
custom combining to address the unique occupational characteristics of 
these occupations. To date, the Department has processed Applications 
for Temporary Employment Certification in these occupations using TEGLs 
specific to each of these occupations, which specify applicable 
variances from H-2A program requirements.\111\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \111\ See TEGL No. 17-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor 
Certification Process for Employers in the Itinerant Animal Shearing 
Industry under the H-2A Program (June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?docn=3041; TEGL No. 33-10, 
Special Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Itinerant 
Commercial Beekeeping Employers in the H-2A Program (June 14, 2011), 
https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=3043; TEGL No. 
16-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor Certification Process for 
Multi-State Custom Combine Owners/Operators under the H-2A Program 
(June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=3040. The NPRM also proposed to incorporate 
reforestation and pine straw activities into the H-2A program. Those 
activities have been considered under the H-2B program, and 
variances for the unique characteristics of those activities are 
provided for in TEGL No. 27-06, Special Guidelines for Processing H-
2B Temporary Labor Certification in Tree Planting and Related 
Reforestation Occupations (June 12, 2007), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=2446. However, following a 
consideration of the public submissions, and as discussed in the 
preamble to Sec.  655.103(c), above, this final rule does not 
incorporate reforestation and pine straw activities into the H-2A 
program, and thus no specific variances are included for these 
activities.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In order to employ H-2A workers under these procedures, an 
employer's job opportunity must be in one of the covered occupations 
and must involve agricultural work to be performed on a scheduled 
itinerary covering multiple AIEs, including in multiple contiguous 
States. Unless otherwise specified in these variances, set forth in new 
Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304, employers must also comply with all 
H-2A requirements in Sec. Sec.  655.100 through 655.185, including 
payment of at least the highest applicable wage rate, determined in 
accordance with Sec.  655.122(l) for all hours worked.\112\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \112\ Compliance with Sec.  655.122(l), as revised by this rule, 
requires an employer to ``pay the worker at least the AEWR; a 
prevailing wage, if the OFLC Administrator has approved a prevailing 
wage survey for the applicable crop activity or agricultural 
activity and, if applicable, a distinct work task or tasks performed 
in that activity, meeting the requirements of Sec.  655.120(c); the 
agreed-upon collective bargaining rate; the Federal minimum wage; or 
the State minimum wage rate, whichever is highest, for every hour or 
portion thereof worked during a pay period.''
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    The Department is adopting the variances proposed in the NPRM with 
minor revisions and technical changes. The Department received many 
comments on the proposed procedures in Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 
655.304. All of the commenters supported the proposed incorporation of 
variances for the commercial beekeeping, animal shearing, and custom 
combining occupations in the Department's H-2A regulations.
    Some commenters requested additional variances not proposed in the 
NPRM. Several employer commenters requested a variance from the H-2A 
wage requirements in the case of job opportunities that involve animal 
shearing. The commenters stated that employers of animal shearers 
generally pay per piece or head, not hourly, and need a regional or 
national piece rate prevailing wage for shearers. The Department notes 
that the H-2A program does not prohibit the payment of a piece rate to 
covered workers, so long as the piece rate is accurately disclosed and 
the worker's average hourly earnings for the pay period equal at least 
the highest of the AEWR, prevailing hourly wage, agreed-upon collective 
bargaining rate, or the Federal or State minimum wage. Indeed, 
historical prevailing wage rates for animal shearing have often been 
published as piece rates. Additionally, the Department believes that 
the prevailing wage methodology adopted in this final rule at Sec.  
655.120(c)(1) adequately addresses the needs of animal shearing 
employers and removes the need for the prevailing wage variance 
specified in the TEGL. The TEGL permitted use of a prevailing piece 
rate finding from an adjoining or proximate State or based on 
aggregated survey data for the occupation in a region to address 
situations such as inadequate sample sizes that would otherwise prevent 
a prevailing piece rate finding in a particular State.\113\ Under this 
final rule, a prevailing wage survey may cover a regional area, where 
appropriate, based on the factors at Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(vi).\114\ 
Because the prevailing wage methodology adopted in this final rule 
accommodates the potential for a regional survey, a specific variance 
is no longer required to address situations in which a statewide survey 
fails to generate a prevailing piece rate wage result for this 
occupation. In addition, as a prevailing wage survey may set a 
prevailing wage by the piece rate based on employer responses, a 
specific variance is not required to accommodate piece rates. 
Regardless, the Department notes that this final rule does not require 
employers to change their existing payment practices, as the obligation 
to pay at least the amount required by Sec.  655.122(l) continues 
unchanged.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \113\ See TEGL No. 17-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor 
Certification Process for Employers in the Itinerant Animal Shearing 
Industry under the H-2A Program, Attachment A, Section I.A (June 14, 
2011).
    \114\ In the NPRM, the Department expressed its intent to codify 
existing practice, including regional surveys where appropriate, 
through Sec.  655.120(c)(1)(vi). 84 FR 36168, 36187.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A workers' rights advocacy organization submitted a comment that 
mentions reports of violations regarding the adequate payment for 
compensable time for workers employed as animal shearers and custom 
combining workers for travel time. In response, the Department 
reiterates that employers must account for all hours worked by the 
employee in meeting their wage obligations in Sec.  655.122(l). As 
previously noted, in determining compensable hours worked under the H-
2A Program, the Department applies FLSA hours worked principles. The 
principles applied in determining compensable hours worked are 
explained in more detail in 29 CFR part 785. As such, the Department 
reminds employers that any employee performing work while traveling 
(e.g., driving a combine or employer housing between locations, or 
transporting other workers along an itinerary) constitutes hours 
worked. See Sec.  785.41. Additionally, certain transportation time may 
constitute hours worked for passengers. See Sec. Sec.  785.33 through 
785.41.
    Some commenters requested a meal allowance credit towards the wage 
rate for workers in herding and range livestock production occupations. 
As explained in the preamble to the NPRM, however, the Department is 
not reconsidering and thus did not seek comment on the wage rate 
methodology for herding and range livestock production job 
opportunities. These comments are outside the scope of this rulemaking.
2. Section 655.301, Definition of Terms
    The NPRM proposed definitions for the occupations subject to the 
procedures in Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304. As discussed below, 
the Department is adopting Sec.  655.301 from



the NPRM with clarifying and conforming changes. Commenters generally 
supported the proposed definitions. A workers' rights advocacy 
organization recommended adding a sentence to the definition of 
commercial beekeeping stating that the definition includes work 
performed under the supervision of either a fixed-site farmer/rancher 
or an itinerant beekeeping employer providing services to a fixed-site 
farmer/rancher, purportedly to ``ensure accurate coverage of all 
applicable job opportunities.'' However, the commenter did not provide 
any explanation as to why the identity of the supervisor of an 
itinerant beekeeping worker is relevant to coverage of applicable job 
opportunities. The Department declines to adopt the commenter's 
proposal. Some commenters argued that itinerant beekeepers have been 
erroneously subject to the MSPA FLC registration requirements. The 
Department disagrees. Beekeepers providing pollination services on land 
that they do not own or operate are subject to MSPA FLC registration 
requirements. Moreover, the Department did not propose any substantive 
changes to Sec.  655.132's requirement that H-2ALCs submit a copy of 
their MSPA registration certificate ``if required by MSPA.'' These 
comments are therefore outside the scope of this rulemaking.
    A workers' rights advocacy organization proposed expanding the 
definition of ``custom combining''--though it did not provide a 
rationale for doing so--to cover additional types of equipment beyond 
that used in combining, and additional worksites beyond those covered 
by the definition of agriculture. The Department rejects the proposal. 
To avoid the possibility that readers will construe the definition more 
broadly than intended, the Department has deleted the following terms 
from the proposed definition of ``custom combining'' ``associated 
with'' and ``including.'' The Department also has made other minor 
revisions for clarity, such as specifying that the type of equipment 
involved in the covered activities is combine equipment.
    Several trade associations suggested that the NPRM inadvertently 
omitted certain aspects of custom combining, such as custom harvesters 
that harvest not only grain but also silage for livestock feed. The 
omission was not inadvertent. Harvesting silage does not require a 
combine, but rather a chopper or mower, and therefore falls outside the 
definition of custom combining. The TEGL was intended to cover only 
custom combining harvesters, as evidenced by the regulation authorizing 
promulgation of the TEGLs (i.e., Sec.  655.102, which authorized 
special procedures for processing H-2A applications for, among other 
things, ``custom combine harvesting crews'').\115\ The definition 
adopted in this final rule clarifies that intent.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \115\ In light of this final rule's promulgation of specific 
variances to the procedures for H-2A temporary labor certification 
as necessary to address the unique occupational characteristics of 
animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom combining for 
employers who seek to hire temporary agricultural foreign workers in 
these occupations, the rule also repeals Sec.  655.102's 
authorization of the TEGLs, and it replaces it with a new Sec.  
655.102 that provides a transitional period for the orderly and 
seamless implementation of these variances in lieu of the TEGLs.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In proposing the occupational definitions at Sec.  655.301, the 
Department acknowledged that some of the listed activities may not 
otherwise constitute agricultural work under the current definition of 
agricultural labor or services in Sec.  655.103(c) but are a necessary 
part of performing this work on an itinerary (e.g., transporting 
equipment from one field to another). See 84 FR 36168, 36222. 
Accordingly, and solely for the purposes of the proposed variances in 
Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304, the Department explained that it 
would include these activities in the occupational definitions. Id. The 
Department did not receive any comments opposing the inclusion of 
specific activities listed in the proposed definitions. However, the 
Department acknowledges that only duties that fall within the 
definition of agricultural labor or services under Sec.  655.103(c) may 
be certified under the H-2A program. Additionally, an application for a 
job opportunity that contains non-agricultural duties, or a combination 
of agricultural and non-agricultural duties, could not otherwise be 
certified. See generally Sec.  655.161(a); 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 
6884, 6888. Accordingly, the Department clarifies in this final rule 
that, under the variances adopted in Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 
655.304, the activities included in the occupational definitions at 
Sec.  655.301 are eligible for certification under the H-2A program. 
The Department therefore has made a technical, conforming revision to 
add new paragraph Sec.  655.103(c)(5), which expressly provides that, 
for the purposes of Sec.  655.103(c), agricultural labor or services 
includes animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, and custom combining 
activities as defined and specified in Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 
655.304.
3. Section 655.302, Contents of Job Orders
a. Paragraph (a), Content of Job Offers
    A workers' rights advocacy organization expressed general support 
for proposed Sec.  655.302, but they recommended that job orders be 
required to include additional information about workers' compensation, 
rates of pay, the offered wage, and productivity standards for each 
State in which work will be performed. No change is required to address 
this comment. Unless a specific variance under Sec.  655.302 is 
applicable and provides otherwise, an employer's job order must still 
comply with each of the content requirements at Sec.  655.122. See 
Sec.  655.302(a). For example, in order to satisfy its obligation to 
provide workers' compensation insurance coverage for injury and disease 
``arising out of and in the course of the worker's employment'' and 
``for the entire period of employment'' under Sec.  655.122(e), an 
employer requiring work in multiple States (including a single AIE that 
crosses State lines) must satisfy this obligation in each State in 
which work will be performed. Similarly, Sec.  655.122(c) and (l) 
require the employer to disclose the wage rate(s) offered and 
productivity standards in the job order. The Department's modernized 
job order form, Form ETA-790A, facilitates full disclosure of job offer 
information.
b. Paragraph (b), Job Qualifications and Requirements
    A workers' rights advocacy organization opposed the Department's 
proposal to allow a job offer for the animal shearing and custom 
combining occupations to include a statement that applicants must 
possess up to 6 months of experience in similar occupations, and for 
the commercial beekeeping occupation to include a statement that 
applicants must possess up to 3 months of experience in similar 
occupations. The Department is retaining the NPRM proposal. The 
proposal was consistent with the TEGLs for these occupations. This 
final rule does not mandate that employers seeking workers for these 
occupations require such experience; rather, this final rule recognizes 
that such experience is consistent with the experience employers 
normally choose to require for these occupations, as has been observed 
in filings with OFLC. These occupations typically involve specialized 
skills (e.g., operating heavy equipment; using shearing tools quickly 
and close to an animal's skin without injury; or detecting and 
addressing bee health issues). The regulatory text specifies the 
maximum amount of



experience that an employer may require absent an affirmative 
demonstration that such experience is a normal and accepted 
requirement. This provision does not mean an employer must require the 
maximum amount of experience in the job order--it simply sets a ceiling 
for what are considered to be normal requirements. Further, in the 
event that a SWA or OFLC CO obtains information indicating that the 
amount of experience required by the employer is not usual for a given 
State, AIE, or job opportunity, nothing in this rule precludes the SWA 
and/or OFLC from assessing the normalcy of the experience requirement 
under Sec.  655.122(b).
    The same commenter also requested that Sec.  655.302(b) be revised 
to remove the verifiable experience requirement because such 
requirements are used as a barrier to exclude U.S. workers, but they 
are rarely applied to foreign workers. The Department does not believe 
that this change is necessary. The Department's regulations have long 
prohibited the preferential treatment of H-2A workers over other 
workers, including by prohibiting the imposition on U.S. workers of any 
restrictions or obligations that will not be imposed on the employer's 
H-2A workers. See Sec.  655.122(a)(1). These protections continue to 
apply under this final rule. Employers should therefore ensure that any 
restrictions or obligations imposed on U.S. applicants are also imposed 
on H-2A workers, and the employer retains records of the imposition of 
these restrictions or obligations in the event of an audit by OFLC or 
enforcement by WHD.
    An employer commenter opposed the provision in Sec.  655.302(b) 
permitting beekeeping employers to specify in the job order that 
applicants must possess a valid driver's license or be able to obtain 
such a license no later than 30 days after the worker's arrival to the 
place of employment. The commenter noted that beekeeping employers do 
not require all workers to drive and when they do, it is often not 
possible to obtain a license within 30 days. This comment seemed to 
misunderstand the nature of the provision in Sec.  655.302(b). Nothing 
in the regulation would require an employer to impose a driver's 
license requirement or to require workers to obtain a license within 30 
days for every job order. On the contrary, only to the extent 
beekeeping employers choose to require that workers possess a driver's 
license, Sec.  655.302(b) provides that the job offer may require that 
applicants either possess a driver's license or be able to obtain one 
within 30 days. However, nothing in Sec.  655.302(b) would prevent an 
employer from allowing applicants more than 30 days to obtain a 
driver's license.
c. Paragraph (c), Communication Devices
    Pursuant to Sec.  655.122(f), employers must provide each worker, 
without charge or deposit charge, all tools, supplies, and equipment 
required to perform the duties assigned. Due to the potentially remote, 
isolated, and unique nature of the work to be performed by workers in 
animal shearing and custom combining occupations, the NPRM proposed to 
require the employer to provide each worker, without charge or deposit 
charge, effective means of communicating with persons capable of 
responding to the worker's needs in case of an emergency. The proposed 
requirement is consistent with that same requirement in place for 
workers primarily engaged in the herding and production of livestock on 
the range under the H-2A program, see Sec.  655.210(d)(2), as well as 
those currently in place in the TEGLs for these occupations. Therefore, 
as discussed below, the Department is adopting paragraph (c) from the 
NPRM with a change for flexibility.
    Several employer and association commenters opposed the requirement 
to provide communication devices for each worker in an animal shearing 
and custom combining crew. The commenters argued that crews in these 
occupations do not generally perform work in areas that are as remote 
and isolated as workers engaged in herding and production of livestock 
on the range. They also noted that workers generally have their own 
communication devices, so there is no need for the employer to bear the 
cost of providing a device to each worker. A workers' rights advocacy 
organization, on the other hand, argued that communication devices 
should be provided for all workers in those occupations, as well as for 
workers in commercial beekeeping occupations.
    In light of the comments, the Department has decided to modify the 
NPRM proposal. This final rule requires the employer to provide at 
least one communication device to each animal shearing and custom 
combining crew (i.e., group of workers working together as a unit). The 
Department's intent is to ensure that each worker have a meaningful way 
to seek assistance in case of emergencies. The Department's interest in 
ensuring meaningful access to communication devices may be accomplished 
by requiring one communication device per crew. Each worker in the crew 
must have meaningful access to that device in the case of an emergency. 
To have meaningful access, each worker in the crew must be notified as 
to the location of the communication device at all times (e.g., stored 
in a particular vehicle or equipment), trained in operation of the 
device (e.g., informed of any passcodes), and be free to use the device 
to contact first responders or other emergency responders directly, 
without first contacting the employer or crew leader. Employers must 
have the ability to address language barriers in the event of an 
emergency. Employers can address language barriers by having on-call 
staff or otherwise making available (e.g., through a conference call), 
a person capable of speaking the worker's language and communicating 
the worker's needs, or by using translation technology (e.g., computer 
software, translation devices). This modification strikes a balance 
between the need to ensure that workers have access to a communication 
device for emergencies, while heeding the employer commenters' 
arguments that workers in the animal shearing and custom combining 
occupations usually work as a crew, and therefore individual devices 
are not necessary. Additionally, the Department agrees that, in 
contrast to herding and livestock workers on the range, these 
occupations are more likely to be working on farms and ranches, rather 
than in remote areas. However, the relatively less remote nature of the 
worksites characterizing these occupations (when compared to range 
herding and production of livestock) does not obviate the need for 
communication devices; this work can be dangerous and may occur in 
remote areas, thus necessitating that workers have the ability to call 
for help in case of an emergency.
    The Department does not believe communication devices should be 
mandated for commercial beekeepers, contrary to the suggestion by a 
workers' rights advocacy organization. The TEGL for that occupation 
does not currently include such a requirement because workers in that 
occupation generally work in less remote locations where phones are 
more easily accessible.
    The NPRM also posed questions about whether the regulation should 
identify other specific tools the employer must provide to each worker 
in the covered occupations. A workers' rights advocacy organization 
requested that the Department modify the proposed Sec.  655.302(c) to 
include an explicit, nonexclusive list of such items that are typically 
required by the nature of the work under this subpart, to ensure 
employers provide the tools, supplies,



and equipment necessary for workers to do the job. Employer association 
commenters opposed the requirement that employers provide all tools, 
but they provided little detail regarding the tools that employers 
should not be required to provide to workers in commercial beekeeping 
and custom combining occupations.
    This final rule retains the proposal in the NPRM, which does not 
identify the specific tools the employer must provide to workers in the 
covered occupations. There is much variability in the tools necessary 
to perform the work in these occupations, and they may vary by 
employer, region, and type of work.
    Employer association commenters in the animal shearing occupations 
opposed the requirement that the employer provide all tools to shearing 
workers, arguing that shearing workers generally have their own set of 
shears and that requiring the employer to provide them would be 
burdensome and unnecessary. The requirement to provide all necessary 
tools to workers is not unique to animal shearing employers, as all H-
2A employers must provide to the worker, without charge or deposit 
charge, all tools, supplies, and equipment required to perform the 
duties assigned. See Sec.  655.122(f). In addition, the Department's 
regulation at Sec.  655.122(p) prohibits an employer from making an 
unlawful deduction that is primarily for the benefit or convenience of 
the employer. Because all tools, supplies, and equipment required to 
perform the duties assigned are primarily for the benefit of the 
employer, these tools must be provided to the worker free of charge. 
See 29 CFR 531.3(d)(2). While employers must provide tools free of 
charge to workers, workers may choose to use their own tools if that is 
their preference.
d. Paragraph (d), Housing
    The NPRM proposed that for job opportunities involving animal 
shearing and custom combining, the employer must specify in the job 
order that housing will be provided as set forth in Sec.  655.304. This 
final rule retains the requirement in this section. The specific 
housing requirements for these occupations are discussed below in the 
preamble to Sec.  655.304.
4. Section 655.303, Procedures for Filing Applications for Temporary 
Employment Certification
    The NPRM proposed that employers in the covered occupations 
continue to satisfy the regular requirements for filing an Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification under Sec. Sec.  655.130 through 
655.132, and that, consistent with the TEGLs, employers seeking workers 
in the covered occupations continue to provide the specific locations, 
estimated start and end dates, and, if applicable, names for each farm 
or ranch for which work will be performed. The NPRM, however, proposed 
an exception to the geographic limitations in Sec. Sec.  655.130 
through 655.132 for applications subject to the procedures in 
Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304. This exception allows such 
agricultural work to be performed on a scheduled itinerary covering 
multiple AIEs, including in multiple contiguous States. Further, the 
NPRM proposed an additional exception for applications in the 
commercial beekeeping occupation. Consistent with the current TEGL for 
that occupation, the NPRM proposed allowing such applications to 
include one noncontiguous State at the beginning and end of the period 
of employment for retrieving bee colonies from and returning them to 
their overwintering location. Commenters expressed general support for 
the procedures in Sec.  655.303. Therefore, as discussed below, this 
final rule retains the proposal in the NPRM with minor technical 
revisions.
    Several employers and employer associations and agent commenters 
opposed the NPRM's proposal that applications for the covered 
occupations limit itineraries to contiguous States. Some of the 
employer and association commenters opposed the proposal on the basis 
that it would be a change from the geographic scope permitted under 
current practice and that the change would not permit them to continue 
performing the job duties associated with these occupations. Other 
commenters expressed concern that the proposal was limited to a 
starting State and its contiguous States only, which was not the intent 
of the proposal. The Department's use of the term ``contiguous'' was 
not intended to anchor all States on the itinerary to the starting 
State. Rather, the proposal was intended to permit covered employers to 
file applications with an itinerary spanning multiple States so long as 
each of the States included in the itinerary shared a border with 
another State on the itinerary. In other words, the Department intended 
to describe an itinerary covering a contiguous grouping of States akin, 
but not limited, to recognized regional groupings of States (e.g., USDA 
farm production regions). For example, an animal shearing application 
could include an itinerary with work to be performed in California, 
Oregon, Idaho, and Utah; but not California, Oregon, Idaho, and 
Colorado, as Colorado is not contiguous to any of the other States on 
the itinerary. A beekeeping application could include an itinerary with 
work in Texas, North Dakota, and South Dakota; or Texas, California, 
and Oregon; but not Texas, North Dakota, and California. Where an 
employer has planned work in groups of States that are not contiguous, 
or for beekeeping employers that are not contiguous apart from the 
overwintering State, the employer must file more than one Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification, where each satisfies the 
contiguous State itinerary requirement.
    In adopting the NPRM proposal regarding contiguous States, the 
Department expects that most participating employers will be able to 
continue filing applications with minimal or no changes to current 
practice. Employers generally limit the time and distances between work 
locations on the itinerary, both for their own profitability and to 
satisfy wage and hour guarantees to workers. Further, the distances 
that can be covered within one itinerary are limited by the seasonality 
of the need for the duties to be performed. Therefore, employers 
typically file applications in which work will be performed along a 
contiguous-State route, involving a grouping of States.
    Contrary to some commenters' suggestion, the limitation serves to 
advance legitimate Departmental goals while recognizing the need for 
employers in the covered occupations to have ample flexibility to 
follow an itinerary over a large geographic area. This final rule 
serves to ensure that applications reflect bona fide job opportunities 
for full-time, temporary work through the employer's asserted period of 
need. An employer must have sufficient evidence of the work it expects 
to perform across the itinerary at the time it submits its Application 
for Temporary Employment Certification. Long distances between places 
of employment on an itinerary suggest a lack of full-time work 
throughout the work contract. Although the three-fourths guarantee 
provides an assurance to workers of the minimum hours and wages they 
can expect under the work contract, that guarantee is intended to 
address the normal variability of weather, crop readiness, and other 
circumstances in agricultural work. The three-fourths guarantee is not 
intended to allow an employer to include periods without work, as would 
be the case during travel between distant places of employment. The 
Department further notes that the limitation in Sec.  655.303 is



consistent with the requirement in Sec.  655.215(b)(1) for herding and 
range livestock applications.
    In addition, under the applicable hours worked principles, only 
certain time spent traveling between worksites constitutes compensable 
hours worked. See 29 CFR part 785. Because it is possible that time 
spent traveling between worksites would not constitute compensable 
hours worked for many H-2A and corresponding workers, permitting 
itineraries to include noncontiguous States (apart from those necessary 
for overwintering bees) could result in several non-compensable hours 
worked for these workers during longer trips.
    Employer and employer association commenters expressed concern that 
the proposed Sec.  655.303 would change current practice under the 
TEGLs by requiring an employer to file one H-2A application for each 
crew of itinerant workers. Those commenters noted that under current 
practice, employers with multiple crews sometimes operate along a 
single itinerary, traveling to separate locations when needed, and 
requested additional flexibility in the number of itineraries that may 
be filed under a single application. They stated that switching workers 
between crews sometimes becomes necessary--for example, if a worker is 
sick and another worker is needed to fill in to complete a job.
    The NPRM proposal was intended to be consistent with the procedures 
and policy established in the TEGLs. In the TEGLs, the Department 
permitted a variance from Sec.  655.132(a) to allow, for example, an 
itinerant animal shearing employer ``who desires to employ one or more 
nonimmigrant workers on an itinerary'' to submit ``a planned itinerary 
of work in multiple [S]tates.'' \116\ The NPRM inadvertently introduced 
confusion by using the term ``crew,'' rather than ``itinerary,'' though 
no distinction from current practice was intended. The Department 
understands that employers may divide workers into various crews, with 
all of the crews performing work along the same planned route, with 
different crews working at different farms or ranches within the same 
area or some crews moving ahead of others to the next location on the 
planned route. Depending on agricultural needs (e.g., farm size and/or 
crop conditions) at each farm or ranch, the number of workers or crews 
needed at each worksite may vary. As long as all of the workers covered 
by the application were performing labor or services along the same 
planned route, the Department would consider the employer to have one 
itinerary, even if the workers might be assigned to different 
particular contracts along that route. This understanding is consistent 
with a non-itinerant H-2ALC employing workers performing work at 
different locations within a single AIE.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \116\ See TEGL No. 17-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor 
Certification Process for Employers in the Itinerant Animal Shearing 
Industry under the H-2A Program, Attachment B, Sections I.B. and 
II.B (June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/TEGL/TEGL17-06-Ch1.pdf.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    To the extent employers in the covered occupations present work 
itineraries that contain different planned routes for some of the 
workers, they would be required to file more than one Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification. However, to the extent employers 
present an itinerary that contains one planned route for all of the 
workers, in which some workers are briefly assigned to different farm 
contracts, they will be able to file one Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification. For example, where an employer assigns some 
workers to farm contracts along one travel route and other workers to 
farm contracts along a different travel route, and the two groups of 
workers travel and work separately throughout the period of employment 
(or during all but a few occasions, such as for a particularly large 
job or at the beginning or end of the employer's period of need), the 
employer has two distinct itineraries that cannot be combined on a 
single Application for Temporary Employment Certification. In contrast, 
an employer has a single itinerary and can file one Application for 
Temporary Employment Certification where its planned route involves all 
of the workers traveling together or along the same path and working in 
the same general areas at approximately the same times. The fact that 
some workers are assigned to one client farm and other workers are 
assigned to a different client farm in the same AIE does not create a 
separate itinerary. Likewise, and absent some countervailing 
information suggesting truly distinct itineraries, an employer has one 
itinerary and can file one Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification in situations where some workers remain longer in one 
location on the employer's planned route performing their assigned farm 
contracts than other workers and some workers travel ahead to begin to 
work on other farm contracts at the next location on the employer's 
planned route.
    In light of the above clarification regarding the intended meaning, 
this final rule retains the proposal in the NPRM with minor technical 
revisions.
    Employer association commenters also asked that DOL make available 
the application procedure in Sec.  655.205 to applications that involve 
animal shearing. This change is unnecessary as an animal shearing 
employer--or any other employer--with an emergency situation justifying 
waiver of the normal filing timeframes can file its application under 
Sec.  655.134.
5. Section 655.304, Standards for Mobile Housing
    As discussed below, the Department is adopting Sec.  655.304 from 
the NPRM with some changes. Due to the unique nature of animal shearing 
and custom combining occupations, the NPRM proposed to permit employers 
to provide mobile housing for workers engaged in these occupations. The 
Department chose not to permit commercial beekeeping employers to 
provide mobile housing for workers engaged in that occupation. This 
approach is consistent with the relevant TEGLs.\117\ The NPRM included 
proposed standards for mobile housing for workers engaged in the animal 
shearing and custom combining occupations, which largely incorporated 
the housing standards in the TEGLs, with two key exceptions.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \117\ See TEGL No. 17-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor 
Certification Process for Employers in the Itinerant Animal Shearing 
Industry under the H-2A Program, Attachment B (June 14, 2011), 
https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/TEGL/TEGL17-06-Ch1.pdf; 
TEGL No. 16-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor Certification 
Process for Multi-State Custom Combine Owners/Operators under the H-
2A Program, Attachment A (June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/TEGL/TEGL16-06-Ch1.pdf; TEGL No. 33-10, Special 
Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Itinerant Commercial 
Beekeeping Employers in the H-2A Program, Attachment A (June 14, 
2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=3043.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    First, the TEGL for workers engaged in animal shearing occupations 
expressly provides that an animal shearing contractor may lease a 
mobile unit owned by a crew member or other person or make some other 
type of ``allowance'' to the unit owner. Under the proposed rule, such 
an arrangement with a crew member (e.g., employee) is not permitted. 
Employer and employer association commenters opposed this proposal, 
opining that it appeared the Department is attempting to require 
employees to live in employer-furnished housing and forbidding workers 
from living and traveling in their own lodging, if so preferred. The 
Department is not prohibiting workers from choosing to live and travel 
in their own mobile housing unit, if so preferred. As



commenters noted, all workers are free to decline employer-provided 
housing; however, WHD's enforcement experience indicates that most 
workers tend not to reject this housing, and any investigation will 
closely review whether the worker's rejection of the housing was truly 
voluntary. However, the INA requires every H-2A employer to furnish 
housing at no cost to workers. See 8 U.S.C. 1188(c)(4). Consistent with 
this statutory requirement, it is the employer's obligation to offer 
and furnish such housing at no cost to the worker; permitting an 
employer to rely on the workers to provide their own such housing, 
including through a lease agreement, is inconsistent with this 
statutory requirement.
    Second, the proposed standards deviated from the TEGLs' approach of 
permitting employers of animal shearing and custom combining workers to 
provide housing that met the range housing standards (Sec.  655.235) at 
all times. In contrast, the NPRM proposed to allow such employers to 
comply with the range housing standards only when the housing is 
located on the range and proposed mobile housing standards to be used 
when the housing is not on the range. A workers' rights advocacy 
organization commenter stated that, with a small modification, the 
proposed mobile housing standards would be sufficient to meet the 
mobile housing needs of workers employed in animal shearing and custom 
combining occupations even when the housing is located on the range. 
Some commenters also expressed concern that it might not be clear which 
housing standards would apply in certain situations.
    Upon further consideration, the Department has decided to modify 
Sec.  655.304 to require employers seeking workers in the animal 
shearing and custom combining occupations to provide housing that 
complies with the mobile housing standards in Sec.  655.304 regardless 
of where the housing is located, except as provided below. Thus, 
employers seeking workers in the covered occupations will generally not 
be permitted to comply with the range housing standards (Sec.  655.235) 
even when the housing is located on the range. For the most part, 
employers seeking workers in the animal shearing and custom combining 
occupations will be able to provide housing consistent with the mobile 
housing standards.
    To account for the occasional instances where employers in the 
covered occupations provide housing located on the range in locations 
where compliance with all of the mobile housing standards is not 
feasible, this final rule establishes a procedure to permit employers 
to request a variance from the mobile housing standards that would 
allow them to instead comply with a specific range housing standard for 
the limited time the housing is in that particular location on the 
range. There are minor distinctions between the mobile housing 
standards in Sec.  655.304 and the range housing standards in Sec.  
655.235. Those distinctions are only appropriately invoked in a small 
subset of instances where the work is so remote that the mobile housing 
standard is not feasible for the covered occupations. Similar to the 
procedure in Sec.  655.235(b)(4) and (l), employers may request a 
variance from the CO at the time of the application by:
     Identifying the particular mobile housing standard(s) in 
Sec.  655.304, and attesting that compliance with the standard(s) is 
not feasible; Identifying the range location(s) where it is unable to 
meet the particular mobile housing standard(s) in Sec.  655.304; Identifying the anticipated dates when the mobile unit(s) 
will be in those locations; Identifying the corresponding range housing standard(s) in 
Sec.  655.235, and attesting that it will comply with such standard(s); 
and, Attesting to the reason(s) why the particular mobile 
housing standard(s) in Sec.  655.304 cannot be met.
    If the CO approves one or more variances to the mobile housing 
standards at Sec.  655.304, the approval will specify the locations, 
dates, and specific variances approved. The variance procedure in Sec.  
655.304(a)(1) therefore eliminates any potential confusion about which 
housing standards would apply in any given situation. Further, this 
final rule will allow the Department to monitor the use of mobile 
housing, while maintaining employer flexibility where necessary.
    Accordingly, this final rule also does not adopt the NPRM's 
proposal at Sec.  655.304(a)(1) (consistent with animal shearing TEGL) 
to apply the range housing inspection procedures to mobile housing 
units used on the range. Instead, the inspection procedures at Sec.  
655.122(d)(6) apply to all mobile units used to house workers engaged 
in occupations subject to the procedures in Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 
655.304, except those covered by the exception at Sec.  655.304(a)(2). 
Before issuing any temporary labor certification for workers engaged in 
custom combining or animal shearing work covered by the procedures at 
Sec. Sec.  655.300 through 655.304, and who will be housed in mobile 
units, the CO must receive a housing certification based on an 
inspection conducted by the SWA or that of another local, State, or 
Federal authority acting on behalf of the SWA--or, under the exception 
at Sec.  655.304(a)(2), an authorized representative of the Federal or 
provincial government of Canada--reflecting the certifying authority's 
knowledge of the employer's planned use of the housing, confirming that 
all of the employer's mobile units have been inspected, consistent with 
the requirements of Sec.  655.122(d)(6), and certified as meeting 
applicable housing standards.\118\ The Department has made conforming 
revisions to Sec.  655.122(d)(2), as discussed above.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \118\ One workers' rights advocacy organization commented that 
because it is ``possible that worksites of intended employment may 
include provincial land owned or operated by Canadian employers,'' 
this final rule should be extended to cover such worksites. This 
comment appears to be based on an inaccurate reading of the custom 
combine TEGL. TEGL No. 16-06, Change 1, Special Procedures: Labor 
Certification Process for Multi-State Custom Combine Owners/
Operators under the H-2A Program (June 14, 2011), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=3040. That TEGL 
acknowledges that worksites located in the United States may be 
owned or operated by Canadian employers, and therefore states that 
if such employers provide mobile housing units or other similar 
vehicles, those employers must submit an inspection report of such 
vehicles conducted by an authorized representative of the Canadian 
Federal or provincial government. Nothing in this final rule permits 
worksites of intended employment to be located in Canada.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    If a mobile unit does not satisfy the housing standards at Sec.  
655.304(c) through (p) as a self-contained unit, the employer may 
satisfy those standards by providing supplemental facilities at each 
location on the itinerary to ensure that the housing standards at Sec.  
655.304(c) through (p) are satisfied throughout the work contract 
period. See Sec.  655.304(b).
    Some employer and employer association commenters, who generally 
opposed the obligation to provide housing at no cost to H-2A workers 
and workers in corresponding employment, also opposed specific aspects 
of the mobile housing standards, such as an employer's responsibility 
for the cost of laundering workers' clothes. The Department notes that 
an employer's obligation to provide housing at no cost to the workers 
extends to all required amenities within the housing, regardless of the 
housing standards applicable. For example, an employer cannot charge 
the worker for a bed or for a window because the housing standards 
require these basic amenities. Similarly, the employer cannot charge 
the worker for the laundry facilities provided, because housing 
standards require laundry facilities. When the housing provided does 
not have laundry facilities, and the



employer meets the obligation to provide laundry facilities by 
providing transportation to a laundromat, the employer must pay for 
laundering expenses. On the other hand, where an employer has provided 
functional laundry facilities but the employee chooses to go to a 
laundromat, the employer has complied with its obligation and is not 
responsible for laundering expenses.
    A commenter also raised a concern regarding the impact that use and 
transportation of heating equipment may have on wilderness areas and 
proposed revisions to Sec.  655.304 to note compliance with the 
Wilderness Act is required. Because the employer is already required to 
comply with all applicable laws, a provision specifying that compliance 
with a particular law is not necessary.

VI. Discussion of Revisions to 29 CFR Part 501

    In the NPRM, the Department proposed revisions to its regulations 
at 29 CFR part 501, which sets forth the responsibilities of WHD to 
enforce the legal, contractual, and regulatory obligations of employers 
under the H-2A program. The Department proposed these amendments 
concurrent with and in order to complement the changes that ETA 
proposed to its certification procedures in 20 CFR part 655, subpart B. 
Where the Department has adopted changes to 20 CFR part 655, subpart B, 
as discussed in the above section-by-section analysis of that subpart, 
the Department has adopted the relevant complementary and conforming 
revisions to this part.
    In addition, since publication of the NPRM and through other 
rulemakings, the Department has revised the regulations in 29 CFR part 
501 addressing the amounts and methods of payment of civil money 
penalties, and the timing and finality of decisions of the ARB. This 
final rule reflects these intervening rulemakings, as discussed below.

A. Conforming Changes

    As discussed in the NPRM, the Department proposed various revisions 
to 29 CFR part 501 that conformed to proposed revisions to 20 CFR part 
655, subpart B. Where the Department has adopted proposed changes to 20 
CFR part 655, subpart B, as discussed in the above section-by-section 
analysis of that subpart, the Department has adopted the appropriate 
complementary and conforming revisions to this part. These conforming 
revisions include, among others, clarification of the delegated 
authority of, and division of responsibilities between, ETA and WHD 
under the H-2A program in Sec.  501.1, and the addition or revision of 
certain definitions of terms in Sec.  501.3. Any comments received on 
these proposed revisions, and any changes adopted in this final rule, 
are discussed above in the section-by-section analysis of 20 CFR part 
655, subpart B.

B. Section 501.9, Enforcement of Surety Bond

    The Department proposed revisions to WHD's surety bond provision at 
29 CFR 501.9 as described fully in the discussion of 20 CFR 655.132 
above. As detailed above, the Department has adopted its proposed 
changes to 20 CFR 655.132, with certain revisions. Those revisions, 
however, do not necessitate changes to proposed 29 CFR 501.9. 
Accordingly, this final rule adopts 29 CFR 501.9 as proposed in the 
NPRM, without substantive change.

C. Section 501.20, Debarment and Revocation

    The Department proposed revisions to WHD's debarment provisions at 
29 CFR 501.20 to maintain consistency with the proposed changes to 20 
CFR 655.182(a), which would permit the Department to debar an agent or 
employer for substantially violating a term or condition of the 
temporary agricultural labor certification. The section also has been 
revised to make clear that joint employers under 20 CFR 655.131(b) are 
subject to debarment only for participation in a debarrable violation. 
The Department has responded to the comments received on these proposed 
changes in the above discussion of 20 CFR 655.182(a) and 655.131(b). 
Accordingly, this final rule adopts proposed 29 CFR 501.20 without 
substantive change.

D. Terminology and Technical Changes

    In addition to proposed revisions to conform to the terminology and 
technical changes proposed to 20 CFR part 655, subpart B, the 
Department proposed minor changes throughout this part to correct 
typographical errors and improve clarity and readability. Such changes 
are nonsubstantive and do not change the meaning of the current text. 
For example, the Department proposed throughout part 501 to replace the 
phrase ``the regulations in this part'' with the phrase ``this part.'' 
The Department received no comments on these proposed revisions and 
accordingly adopts them without change in this final rule. The 
Department has made additional technical, nonsubstantive changes 
throughout this part and 20 CFR part 655, subpart B, for accuracy and 
clarity. For example, the Department has replaced the phrase 
``hereunder'' in Sec.  501.5 with a specific reference to the relevant 
authority and made technical changes to the cross-references in Sec.  
655.135(h).

E. Intervening Rulemakings

    Since publication of the NPRM, the Department has revised the 
regulations in 29 CFR part 501 on three occasions. First, on November 
7, 2019, the Department published a final rule revising certain of its 
regulations governing the payment and collection of civil money 
penalties, including those under the H-2A program at Sec.  501.22, by 
allowing for the payment of civil money penalties through an electronic 
payment alternative, and otherwise amending the regulations to ensure 
uniform payment instructions. See Authorizing Electronic Payments of 
Civil Money Penalties, 84 FR 59928 (Nov. 7, 2019). These revisions are 
reflected in this final rule at Sec.  501.22.
    Next, on January 15, 2020, the Department published a final rule to 
adjust for inflation the civil money penalties assessed or enforced by 
the Department, including the H-2A civil money penalties listed in 
Sec.  501.19, pursuant to and as required by the Federal Civil 
Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Federal 
Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 
(Inflation Adjustment Act). See Department of Labor Federal Civil 
Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Annual Adjustments for 2020, 85 FR 
2293 (Jan. 15, 2020).
    Relatedly, the Department received three comments on the NPRM 
opposing what these commenters perceived to be discretionary changes in 
the civil money penalty amounts currently reflected in Sec.  501.19(b). 
As noted above, however, the Department issued its annual inflation 
adjustment to civil money penalty amounts for 2020, as required by the 
Inflation Adjustment Act, after publication of the NPRM. This final 
rule reflects the current, appropriate civil money penalty amounts at 
Sec.  501.19. The Department will continue to annually adjust these 
amounts for inflation, as required by the Inflation Adjustment Act.
    Finally, on May 20, 2020, the Department published a final rule to, 
among other changes and together with Secretary's Order 01-2020, 
establish a new discretionary review process and make technical changes 
to Departmental regulations governing the timing and finality of 
decisions of the ARB, including those under the H-2A



program at Sec.  501.45. See Rules Concerning Discretionary Review by 
the Secretary, 85 FR 30608. These technical revisions are reflected in 
this final rule at Sec.  501.45.

VII. Administrative Information

A. Executive Orders 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review) and 13563 
(Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review)

    Under E.O. 12866, the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory 
Affairs (OIRA) determines whether a regulatory action is significant 
and, therefore, subject to the requirements of the E.O. and review by 
OMB. Section 3(f) of E.O. 12866 defines a ``significant regulatory 
action'' as an action that is likely to result in a rule that: (1) has 
an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more, or adversely 
affects in a material way a sector of the economy, productivity, 
competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State, 
local, or tribal governments or communities (also referred to as 
economically significant); (2) creates serious inconsistency or 
otherwise interferes with an action taken or planned by another agency; 
(3) materially alters the budgetary impacts of entitlement grants, user 
fees, or loan programs, or the rights and obligations of recipients 
thereof; or (4) raises novel legal or policy issues arising out of 
legal mandates, the President's priorities, or the principles set forth 
in the E.O. The OMB's OIRA has determined that this final rule is a 
significant regulatory action, although it is not an economically 
significant action, under E.O. 12866 sec 3(f)(4) and, accordingly, OMB 
has reviewed this final rule. Pursuant to the Congressional Review Act 
(5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), OIRA has designated this rule as not a ``major 
rule,'' as defined by 5 U.S.C. 804(2).
    E.O. 13563 directs agencies to propose or adopt a regulation only 
upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs; the 
regulation is tailored to impose the least burden on society, 
consistent with achieving the regulatory objectives; and in choosing 
among alternative regulatory approaches, the agency has selected those 
approaches that maximize net benefits. E.O. 13563 recognizes that some 
benefits are difficult to quantify and provides that, where appropriate 
and permitted by law, agencies may consider and discuss qualitatively 
values that are difficult or impossible to quantify, including equity, 
human dignity, fairness, and distributive impacts.
Public Comments
    One commenter stated they no longer understood the rationale behind 
the move to e-filing and did not identify an analysis of the costs and 
benefits associated with the proposed changes to e-filing in the NPRM.
    The NPRM stated that mandating e-filing would reduce costs and 
burdens for most employers (and the Department), reduce the frequency 
of delays related to filing applications and supporting documentation 
by mail, improve the consistency and quality of information collected, 
and promote administrative efficiency and accountability. The costs of 
e-filing were determined to be non-quantifiable due to a lack of 
information to determine whether the six percent of employers who 
currently choose not to e-file are doing so as a matter of preference 
or because they are incapable of doing so due to a lack of equipment or 
ability. The cost savings portion of the e-filing requirement is 
quantifiable and is presented in the regulatory impact analysis below.
    One commenter said that the proposal seeks to shift costs from 
employers to H-2A workers by requiring employers to reimburse travel 
costs only from the U.S. consulate, rather than from the workers' home 
communities.
    Under the NPRM, the provision to define ``the place from which the 
worker departed'' as the U.S. embassy or consulate for certain H-2A 
workers was intended to provide workers, employers, and the Department 
with a consistent point from where costs can be calculated. In this 
final rule there is no longer a change to how travel costs are 
reimbursed. Travel costs will continue to be reimbursed from the place 
of worker recruitment which may or may not be the worker's home 
community. Consequently, there is no shift in cost burdens from 
employers to H-2A workers because the Department has decided to retain 
the current regulatory requirement.
Outline of the Analysis
    Section VII.A.1 describes the need for this final rule, and section 
VII.A.2 describes the process used to estimate the costs and cost 
savings of the rule and the general inputs used, such as wages and 
number of affected entities. Section VII.A.3 explains how the 
provisions of this final rule will result in quantifiable costs and 
cost savings and presents the calculations the Department used to 
estimate them. In addition, section VII.A.3 describes the qualitative 
costs, cost savings, and benefits of this final rule. Section VII.A.4 
summarizes the estimated first-year and 10-year total and annualized 
costs, cost savings, and net costs of this final rule. Finally, section 
VII.A.5 describes the regulatory alternatives that were considered 
during the development of this final rule.
Summary of the Analysis
    The Department estimates that this final rule will result in costs 
and cost savings. As shown in Exhibit 1, this final rule is expected to 
have an annualized quantifiable cost of $2.75 million and a total 10-
year quantifiable cost of $19.29 million at a discount rate of seven 
percent.\119\ This final rule is estimated to have annualized 
quantifiable cost savings of $0.16 million and total 10-year 
quantifiable cost savings of $1.12 million at a discount rate of seven 
percent.\120\ The Department estimates that this final rule would 
result in an annualized net quantifiable cost of $2.59 million and a 
total 10-year net cost of $18.17 million, both at a discount rate of 
seven percent and expressed in 2021 dollars.\121\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \119\ This final rule will have an annualized cost of $2.69 
million and a total 10-year cost of $22.96 million at a discount 
rate of three percent in 2021 dollars.
    \120\ This final rule will have an annualized cost savings of 
$0.15 million and a total 10-year cost savings of $1.32 million at a 
discount rate of three percent in 2021 dollars.
    \121\ This final rule will have an annualized net cost of $2.54 
million and a total 10-year cost of $21.64 million at a discount 
rate of three percent in 2021 dollars.

                    Exhibit 1--Estimated Monetized Costs and Cost Savings of This Final Rule
                                                [2021 $millions]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                     Net costs
                                                                       Costs       Cost savings        \122\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Undiscounted 10-Year Total......................................          $26.51           $1.51          $25.00
10-Year Total with a Discount Rate of 3%........................           22.96            1.32           21.64
10-Year Total with a Discount Rate of 7%........................           19.29            1.12           18.17
10-Year Average.................................................            2.65            0.15            2.50



 
Annualized at a Discount Rate of 3%.............................            2.69            0.15            2.54
Annualized with at a Discount Rate of 7%........................            2.75            0.16            2.59
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The total cost of this final rule is associated with rule 
familiarization and recordkeeping requirements for all H-2A 
employers,\123\ as well as increases in the amount of surety bonds 
required for H-2ALCs. The two largest contributors to the cost savings 
of this final rule are the electronic submission of applications and 
application signatures, including the use of electronic surety bonds, 
and the electronic sharing of job orders submitted to the NPC with the 
SWAs. See the costs and cost savings subsections of section VII.A.3 
(Subject-by-Subject Analysis) below for a detailed explanation.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \122\ Net Costs = [Total Costs]--[Total Cost Savings]
    \123\ The Department does not consider the cost of H-2A 
employers learning how to e-file. Based on H-2A certification data 
from FY 2019, 94.1 percent of applications are submitted 
electronically. Almost of all the remaining 5.9 percent of H-2A 
applicants have access to email, so very few applicants will need to 
learn how to e-file.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department was unable to quantify some cost, cost savings, and 
benefits of this final rule. The Department describes them 
qualitatively in section VII.A.3 (Subject-by-Subject Analysis).
1. Need for Regulation
    The Department has determined that new rulemaking is necessary to 
modernize the H-2A program. The Department is updating its regulations 
to ensure that employers can access agricultural labor while 
maintaining the program's strong protections for the workforce. The 
changes adopted in this final rule will streamline the Department's 
review of H-2A applications and enhance WHD's enforcement capabilities, 
thereby reducing workforce instability that can hinder the growth and 
productivity of our nation's farms, while allowing aggressive 
enforcement against program fraud and abuse that undermine the 
interests of workers. Among other changes to achieve these goals, the 
Department has decided to (1) require mandatory e-filing and accept 
electronic signatures; (2) update surety bond requirements and clarify 
recordkeeping requirements; and (3) revise the debarment language to 
allow the Department to debar agents and attorneys, and their 
successors in interest, based on their own substantial violations.
2. Analysis Considerations
    The Department estimated the costs and cost savings of this final 
rule relative to the existing baseline (i.e., the current practices for 
complying, at a minimum, with the H-2A program as currently codified at 
20 CFR part 655, subpart B, and 29 CFR part 501). This existing 
baseline is consistent with the 2010 H-2A Final Rule.
    In accordance with the regulatory analysis guidance articulated in 
OMB's Circular A-4 and consistent with the Department's practices in 
previous rulemakings, this regulatory analysis focuses on the likely 
consequences of this final rule (i.e., costs and cost savings that 
accrue to entities affected). The analysis covers 10 years (from 2022 
through 2031) to ensure it captures major costs and cost savings that 
accrue over time. The Department expresses all quantifiable impacts in 
2021 dollars and uses discount rates of three and seven percent, 
pursuant to Circular A-4.
    Exhibit 2 presents the number of affected entities that are 
expected to be affected by this final rule. The number of affected 
entities is calculated using OFLC certification data from Fiscal Year 
(FY) 2016 through 2020.\124\ The Department provides these estimates 
and uses them throughout this analysis to estimate the costs and cost 
savings of this final rule.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \124\ Only three quarters of FY 2021 data were available at the 
time of analysis. To the extent that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted 
H-2A applications or workers, the inclusion of FY 2020 data allows 
for some impacts to be captured. However, in FY 2020 Q1-Q3, there 
were 223,263 certified workers, and in FY 2021 Q1-Q3, there were 
247,969 certified workers, indicating that FY 2021 is continuing the 
historical trend of year-over-year increases in workers certified 
and that the pandemic may have minimal impacts on program trends.

      Exhibit 2--Average Annual Number of Affected Entities by Type
                             [FY 2016-2020]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       Entity type                            Number
------------------------------------------------------------------------
H-2A Applications Processed.............................          11,527
Unique H-2A Applicants..................................           8,204
Certified H-2A Employers................................           7,596
Certified H-2A Workers..................................         184,323
------------------------------------------------------------------------

a. Growth Rate
    The Department estimated growth rates for applications processed 
and applications certified, and workers certified based on FY 2012-2020 
H-2A program data, presented in Exhibit 3. Estimation of the growth 
rates for labor contractors is limited to FY 2013-2020 data.

                                     Exhibit 3--Historical H-2A Program Data
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   Applications    Applications       Workers          Labor
                       FY                            processed       certified       certified      contractors
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2012............................................           5,459           5,278          85,248  ..............
2013............................................           5,973           5,706          98,814             284
2014............................................           6,726           6,476         116,689             340
2015............................................           7,567           7,194         139,725             388
2016............................................           8,684           8,297         165,741             415
2017............................................          10,097           9,797         199,924             483
2018............................................          11,698          11,319         242,853             566
2019............................................          13,095          12,626         258,446             588
2020............................................          14,063          13,552         275,430             715
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




    The geometric growth rate for certified H-2A workers using the 
program data in Exhibit 3 is calculated as 17.2 percent. This growth 
rate, applied to the analysis timeframe of 2022 to 2031, would result 
in more H-2A certified workers than projected BLS workers in the 
relevant H-2A SOC codes.\125\ Therefore, to estimate realistic growth 
rates for the analysis, the Department applied an autoregressive 
integrated moving average (ARIMA) model to the FY 2012-2020 H-2A 
program data to forecast workers, applications, and labor contractors 
estimate geometric growth rates based on the forecasted data. The 
Department ran multiple ARIMA models on each set of data and used 
common goodness of fit measures to determine how well each ARIMA model 
fit the data.\126\ Multiple models yielded indistinctive measures of 
goodness of fit. Therefore, each model was used to project workers and 
applications through 2031. Then, a geometric growth rate was calculated 
using the forecasted data from each model and an average was taken 
across each model.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \125\ Comparing BLS 2029 projections for combined agricultural 
workers with a 15.8 percent growth rate of H-2A workers yields 
estimated H-2A workers that are about 107 percent greater than BLS 
2029 projections. The projected workers for the agricultural sector 
were obtained from BLS's Occupational Projections and Worker 
Characteristics, which may be accessed at https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/occupational-projections-and-characteristics.htm.
    \126\ The Department estimated models with different lags for 
autoregressive and moving averages, and orders of integration: 
ARIMA(0,2,0); (0,2,1); (0,2,2); (1,2,1); (1,2,2); (2,2,2). For each 
model we used the Akaike Information Criteria (AIC) goodness of fit 
measure.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The growth rate in certified employers was estimated by calculating 
the geometric growth rate using data from the analysis period (FY 2016-
FY 2020).
    The resulting growth rates used in the analysis are presented in 
Exhibit 4. The estimated growth rates were applied to the estimated 
costs and cost savings of this final rule to forecast participation in 
the H-2A program.

                 Exhibit 4--Estimated H-2A Growth Rates
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                               Value
                       Growth Rate                           (percent)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
H-2A applications processed growth rate.................             3.1
H-2A applications certified growth rate.................             4.5
H-2A workers certified growth rate......................             5.6
H-2A certified labor contractor employer growth rate....             7.3
H-2A certified employer growth rate.....................             3.8
------------------------------------------------------------------------

b. Estimated Number of Workers and Change in Hours
    The Department presents the estimated average number of workers and 
the change in hours required to comply with this final rule for each 
activity in section VII.A.3 (Subject-by-Subject Analysis). For some 
activities, such as rule familiarization and application submission, 
all applicants will experience a change. For other activities, this 
final rule will affect only certified H-2A employers or H-2A certified 
labor contractors. These numbers are derived from OFLC certification 
data for the years 2016 through 2020 and represent an average of the 
fiscal years.\127\ To calculate these estimates, the Department 
estimated the average amount of time (in hours) needed for each 
activity to meet the new requirements relative to the baseline.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \127\ The total unique H-2A applicants in 2016, 2017, 2018, 
2019, and 2020 were 7,446, 7,798. 8,580, 9,382, and 7,815, 
respectively. The total certified H-2A employers in 2016, 2017, 
2018, 2019, and 2020 were 6,713, 7,187, 7,902, 8,391, and 7,785, 
respectively.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

c. Compensation Rates
    In section VII.A.3 (Subject-by-Subject Analysis), the Department 
presents the costs, including labor, associated with the implementation 
of the provisions of this final rule. Exhibit 5 presents the hourly 
compensation rates for the occupational categories expected to 
experience a change in the number of hours necessary to comply with 
this final rule. The Department used the mean hourly wage rate for 
private sector human resources specialists \128\ \129\ and the wage 
rate for Federal employees at the NPC (Grade 12, Step 5).\130\ Wage 
rates are adjusted to reflect total compensation, which includes 
nonwage factors such as overhead and fringe benefits (e.g., health and 
retirement benefits). For all labor groups (i.e., private sector, and 
Federal Government), we use an overhead rate of 17 percent \131\ and a 
fringe benefits rate based on the ratio of average total compensation 
to average wages and salaries in June 2021. For the private sector 
employees, we use a fringe benefits rate of 42 percent.\132\ For the 
Federal Government, we use a fringe benefits rate of 63 percent.\133\ 
We then multiply the loaded wage factor by the corresponding 
occupational category wage rate to calculate an hourly compensation 
rate. The Department used the hourly compensation rates presented in 
Exhibit 5 throughout this analysis to estimate the labor costs for each 
provision.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \128\ BLS, Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2020: 
13-1071 Human Resources Specialists, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes131071.htm (last modified Mar. 31, 2021).
    \129\ Because the Occupational Employment Statistics wage rate 
is in 2020 dollars, the Department inflated it to 2021 dollars using 
the ECI to be consistent with the rest of the analysis, which is in 
2021 dollars.
    \130\ Office of Personnel Management, Salary Table 2020-CHI: 
Incorporating the 1% General Schedule Increase and a Locality 
Payment of 28.59% for the Locality Pay Area of Chicago-Naperville, 
IL-IN-WI (Jan. 2021), https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/salary-tables/pdf/2021/CHI_h.pdf.
    \131\ Cody Rice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wage 
Rates for Economic Analyses of the Toxics Release Inventory Program 
(June 10, 2002), https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OPPT-2014-0650-0005.
    \132\ BLS, Employer Costs for Employee Compensation, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/ecec.toc.htm (last modified Sept. 16, 2021) 
(ratio of total compensation to wages and salaries for all private 
industry workers).
    \133\ DOL, DOL-Only Performance Accountability, Information, and 
Reporting System; OMB Control No. 1205-0521 (2018), https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/ PRAViewDocument?ref_nbr=201802-1205-003.

                                                              Exhibit 5--Compensation Rates
                                                                     [2021 Dollars]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Base hourly                                                                     Hourly
                 Position                    Grade level      wage rate         Loaded wage factor              Overhead costs         compensation rate
                                           ..............             (a)                           (b)                           (c)      d = a + b + c
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                Private Sector Employees
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Human Resources (HR) Specialist..........             N/A          $34.33        $14.25 ($34.33 x 0.42)         $5.84 ($34.33 x 0.17)             $54.42
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



 
                                                              Federal Government Employees
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
NPC Staff................................              12          $46.67        $29.40 ($46.67 x 0.63)         $7.93 ($46.67 x 0.17)             $84.01
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

3. Subject-by-Subject Analysis
    The Department's analysis below covers the estimated costs and cost 
savings of this final rule. The Department emphasizes that many of the 
provisions in this final rule are existing requirements in the statute, 
regulations, or regulatory guidance. This final rule codifies these 
practices under one set of rules; therefore, they are not considered 
``new'' burdens resulting from this final rule. Accordingly, the 
regulatory analysis focuses on the costs and cost savings that can be 
attributed exclusively to the new requirements in this final rule.
a. Costs
    The following sections describe the costs of this final rule.
Quantifiable Costs
i. Rule Familiarization
    When this final rule takes effect, H-2A employers will need to 
familiarize themselves with the new regulations. Consequently, this 
will impose a one-time cost in the first year.
    To estimate the first-year cost of rule familiarization, the 
Department applied the growth rate of H-2A applications processed (3.1 
percent) to the number of unique H-2A applications (8,204) to determine 
the annual number H-2A applications impacted in the first year. The 
number of H-2A applications (8,462) was multiplied by the estimated 
amount of time required to review the rule (1 hour).134 135 
This number was then multiplied by the hourly compensation rate of 
Human Resources Specialists ($54.42 per hour). This calculation results 
in a one-time undiscounted cost of $460,502 in the first year after 
this final rule takes effect. This one-time cost yields a total average 
annual undiscounted cost of $46,050. The annualized cost over the 10-
year period is $53,985 and $65,565 at discount rates of three and seven 
percent, respectively.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \134\ This estimate reflects the nature of this final rule. As a 
rulemaking to amend to parts of an existing regulation, rather than 
to create a new rule, the 1-hour estimate assumes a high number of 
readers familiar with the existing regulation.
    \135\ Differences in the calculation of applications may occur 
due to the rounding of growth rate figures.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

ii. Surety Bond Amounts
    An H-2ALC is required to submit with its Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification proof of its ability to discharge its 
financial obligations under the H-2A program in the form of a surety 
bond. See 20 CFR 655.132(b)(3); 29 CFR 501.9. Based on the Department's 
experience implementing the bonding requirement and its enforcement 
experience with H-2ALCs, the Department is updating its regulations. 
These updates are intended to clarify and streamline the existing 
requirement while strengthening the Department's ability to collect on 
such bonds. Further, the Department is adjusting the required bond 
amounts to reflect updates to the AEWR and to address the increasing 
number of temporary agricultural labor certifications that cover a 
significant number of workers under a single application and surety 
bond.
    Currently, the required bond amounts range from $5,000 to $75,000, 
depending on the number of H-2A workers employed by the H-2ALC under 
the temporary agricultural labor certification. For temporary 
agricultural labor certifications covering fewer than 25 workers, the 
required bond amount is currently $5,000. For temporary agricultural 
labor certifications covering 25-49 workers, 50-74 workers, 75-99 
workers, and 100 or more workers, the required bond amounts are 
$10,000, $20,000, $50,000, and $75,000, respectively. Under this final 
rule, the Department will adjust the required bond amounts 
proportionally to the degree that a national average AEWR exceeds $9.25 
using the current bond amounts as the base amounts for this adjustment. 
The Department will calculate and publish an average AEWR when it 
calculates and publishes AEWR in accordance with Sec.  655.120. The 
average AEWR will be calculated as a simple average of the AEWR 
applicable to the SOC 45-2092 (Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, 
and Greenhouse) and, until the Department publishes a different average 
AEWR, bond amounts will be calculated using an average AEWR of $14.28. 
To calculate the updated bond amounts, the Department will multiply the 
base amounts by the average AEWR and divide that number by $9.25. For 
instance, for a temporary agricultural labor certification covering 100 
workers, the required bond amount would be calculated by the Department 
using the following formula:

$75,000 (base amount) x ($14.28 / $9.25) = $115,784 (updated bond 
amount).

    When the Department publishes a different average AEWR, that amount 
would replace $14.28 in this calculation and the calculations that 
follow.
    The Department also is increasing the required bond amounts for 
temporary agricultural labor certifications covering 150 or more 
workers. For such temporary agricultural labor certifications, the bond 
amount applicable to certifications covering 100 or more workers is 
used as a starting point and is increased for each additional set of 50 
workers. The interval by which the bond amount increases will be based 
on the amount of wages earned by 50 workers over a 2-week period and, 
in its initial implementation, would be calculated using an average 
AEWR of $14.28 as demonstrated:

$14.28 (Average AEWR) x 80 hours x 50 workers = $57,120 in additional 
bond for each additional 50 workers over 100.

    For a crew of 275 workers, additional surety of $171,360 would be 
required. This amount is calculated by determining the number of 
additional full sets of 50 workers beyond the first 100 workers covered 
by the temporary agricultural labor certification and then multiplying 
this number by the amount of additional surety required per each set of 
additional 50 workers (275-100 = 175; 175 / 50 = 3.5; this is 3 
additional sets of 50 workers; 3 x $57,120 = $171,360). As explained 
above, this additional surety is added to the bond



amount required for temporary agricultural labor certifications of 100 
or more workers, resulting in a required bond amount of $287,144 
($115,784) for certifications of 100 or more workers + $171,360 in 
additional surety).
    While this may represent a significant increase in the face value 
of the required bond, the Department understands that employer premiums 
for FLC surety bonds generally range from one to four percent on the 
standard bonding market (i.e., contractors with fair/average credit or 
better).\136\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \136\ The Department reviewed premium rates on the websites of 
companies that offer FLC bonds and, as noted in the NPRM, found that 
employer premiums generally range from one to four percent on the 
standard bonding market (i.e., contractors with fair/average credit 
or better). 84 FR 36168, 36205, 36233. The Department assumed 
contractors would have fair/average credit and so used a premium of 
four percent to approximate the rate on the high side for premiums 
on the standard bond market. Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    For this analysis, the Department assumes that the bond premium 
faced by H-2ALCs will be four percent. To calculate the costs of the 
increase in the required bond amounts, the Department first calculated 
the average number of H-2ALCs in FY 2016 to 2020 and the current 
required bond amounts. Also, the Department calculated the average 
number of additional sets of 50 workers in FY 2016 to 2020. Next, the 
Department calculated the required bond amounts for each category of 
number of workers using the average AEWR of $14.28, as well as the bond 
amount for each set of additional 50 workers per H-2ALC. Exhibit 6 
presents these calculations.

                        Exhibit 6--Cost Increases Due to Changes in Required Bond Amounts
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Existing     Average number     Proposed        Change in
        Number of workers          required bond   of H-2ALCs in   required bond   required bond   Cost increase
                                      amount         FY 16-20         amount          amount       (or decrease)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1-24............................          $5,000             315       $7,718.92       $2,718.92         $108.76
25-49...........................          10,000              71       15,437.84        5,437.84          217.51
50-74...........................          20,000              51       30,875.68       10,875.68          435.03
75-100..........................          50,000              32       77,189.19       27,189.19        1,087.57
More than 100...................          75,000             135      115,783.78       40,783.78        1,631.35
Each Additional Set of 50                    N/A         \a\ 607       57,120.00       57,120.00        2,284.80
 Workers Greater than 100.......
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ This value represents the total number of additional sets of 50 for H-2ALCs with more than 100 workers.

    For H-2ALCs with temporary agricultural labor certifications 
covering 1 to 24 workers the Department calculated the first-year cost 
by multiplying the average number of H-2ALCs in FY 2016 to 2020 with 
certifications covering 1 and 24 workers (315 H-2ALCs) by the change in 
the required bond amount ($2,718.92) and the assumed bond premium (four 
percent). The Department calculated this for each additional category 
of number of workers. Additionally, the Department calculated the total 
cost due to the required bond amounts for additional sets of 50 workers 
by multiplying the average additional sets of 50 workers (607 sets) in 
the FY 2016 to 2020 by the required bond amount ($57,120) and the 
assumed bond premium (four percent). To project the costs of this final 
rule these calculations were repeated in each year from 2022 through 
2031.
    After calculating annual total costs, the geometric growth rate of 
H-2ALCs (7.3 percent) was applied to account for anticipated increased 
H-2A applicants. The increased costs for each size category were summed 
to obtain the total annual costs resulting from the change in bond 
premiums. This calculation yields an average annual undiscounted cost 
of $2.58 million.
    The estimated total cost from the required bond amounts over the 
10-year period is $25.76 million undiscounted, or $22.25 million and 
$18.62 million at discount rates of three and seven percent, 
respectively. The annualized cost over the 10-year period is $2.61 
million and $2.65 million at discount rates of three and seven percent, 
respectively.
iii. Recordkeeping
Earnings Records
    This final rule requires an H-2A employer to maintain a worker's 
actual permanent home address, email address, and phone number(s), 
which are usually in the worker's country of origin. This information 
will greatly assist the Department in contacting an H-2A worker in the 
worker's home country, should the Department need to do so to conduct 
employee interviews as part of an investigation, to secure employee 
testimony during litigation, or to distribute back wages.
    To calculate the estimated recordkeeping costs associated with 
collecting and maintaining this information, the Department first 
multiplied the number of certified H-2A employers (7,596 employers) by 
the 3.8 percent annual growth rate of certified H-2A employers to 
determine the annual impacted population of H-2A employers. The 
impacted number was then multiplied by the estimated time required to 
collect and maintain this information (2 minutes) to obtain the total 
amount of recordkeeping time required. The Department then multiplied 
this estimate by the hourly compensation rate for Human Resources 
Specialists ($54.42 per hour). This yields an annual cost ranging from 
$14,298 in 2022 to $19,955 in 2031.
Abandonment of Employment or Termination for Cause
    This final rule revises Sec.  655.122(n) to require an employer to 
maintain records of notification detailed in the same section for not 
less than 3 years from the date of the temporary agricultural labor 
certification. An employer is relieved from the requirements relating 
to return transportation and subsistence costs and three-fourths 
guarantee when the employer notifies the NPC (and the DHS in case of an 
H-2A worker), in a timely manner, if a worker voluntarily abandons 
employment before the end of the contract period or is terminated for 
cause. Additionally, the employer is not required to contact its former 
U.S. workers, who abandoned employment or were terminated for cause, to 
solicit their return to the job.
    To estimate the recordkeeping costs associated with maintaining 
records of these notifications, the Department first multiplied the 
number of certified H-2A employers (7,596) by the 3.8 percent annual 
growth rate of certified H-2A employers to determine the annual 
impacted population of H-2A employers. The impacted number was then 
multiplied by the assumed percentage of employers per year that



will have 1 or more workers abandon employment or be terminated for 
cause (70 percent). This amount was then multiplied by the estimated 
time required to maintain these records (2 minutes) to estimate the 
total amount of recordkeeping time required. This total time was then 
multiplied by the hourly compensation rate for Human Resources 
Specialists ($54.42 per hour). This yields an annual cost ranging from 
$10,009 in 2022 to $13,968 in 2031.
Total Recordkeeping Costs
    The total cost from the recordkeeping requirements over the 10-year 
period is estimated at $288,778 undiscounted, or $251,445 and $212,599 
at discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The 
annualized cost of the 10-year period is $29,477 and $30,269 at 
discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively.
Non-Quantifiable Costs
i. Housing
    This final rule implements changes to the standards applicable to 
employers who choose to meet their H-2A housing obligations by 
providing rental and/or public accommodations. Under this final rule, 
the Department identified specific OSHA temporary labor camp standards 
that are applicable to rental or public accommodations. Where local 
health and safety standards for rental and/or public accommodations 
exist, the local standards apply in their entirety. However, if the 
local standards do not address one or more of the issues addressed in 
the OSHA health and safety standards listed in the regulation, the 
relevant State standards on those issues will apply. If both the local 
and State standards are silent on one or more of the issues addressed 
in the OSHA health and safety standards listed in the regulation, the 
relevant OSHA health and safety standards will apply. If there are no 
applicable local or State standards at all, only the OSHA health and 
safety standards listed in the regulation will apply. OSHA temporary 
labor camp standards that are not specifically mentioned in Sec.  
655.122(d)(1)(ii) will not be applicable to rental or public 
accommodations.
    Generally, under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule, only certain rental and/
or public accommodations are subject to the OSHA housing standards. As 
such, employers who are not currently subject to the OSHA standards are 
likely to experience costs related to ensuring their chosen rental and/
or public accommodations comply with those standards. For example, 
employers that currently require workers to share beds will be required 
to provide each worker with a separate bed. To comply with this final 
rule, such employers may be required to book additional rooms or 
provide different housing. The Department is unable to quantify an 
estimated cost due to a lack of data as to the number of employers that 
would be required to change current practices under this final rule. 
The Department invited comment on this analysis for relevant data or 
information that would allow for a quantitative analysis of possible 
costs in this final rule and received none.
ii. Requirement To File Electronically
    During FY 2019, about six percent of employers choose not to file 
electronically. Under this final rule, employers will have two 
options--to file electronically or to file a request for accommodation 
because they are unable or limited in their ability to use or access 
electronic forms as result of a disability or lack of access to e-
filing. Despite the vast majority of employers choosing to currently 
file electronically, the Department has not estimated costs for 
employers' time and travel to file electronically when they otherwise 
would not have. The Department believes these costs will be very small.
    The Department also has not estimated any costs for accommodation 
requests. The Department expects to receive very few, if any, mailed-in 
accommodation requests. In its H-1B program, which has mandatory e-
filing--albeit from a very different set of industry--the Department 
has not received any requests for accommodation due to a disability. Of 
the handful of internet access requests received annually, none were 
approved, as the requestors had public access nearby. For those 
requesting an accommodation in H-2A, the Department estimates that the 
cost to apply would be de minimis, consisting of the time and cost of a 
letter, printing out, and completing the forms.
b. Cost Savings
    The following sections describe the cost savings of this final 
rule.
Quantifiable Cost Savings
i. Electronic Processing and Process Streamlining
    The Department is modernizing and clarifying the procedures by 
which an employer files a job order and an Application for Temporary 
Employment Certification for H-2A workers under Sec. Sec.  655.121 and 
655.130 through 655.132. The NPC will electronically share job orders 
with SWAs, which will result in both a material cost and a time cost 
savings for employers.
    To ensure the most efficient processing of all applications, the 
Department must receive a complete application for review. Based on the 
Department's experience administering the H-2A program under the 
current rule, a common reason for issuing a NOD on an employer's 
application includes failure to complete all required fields on a form, 
failure to submit one or more supporting documents required by the 
regulation at the time of filing, or both. These incomplete 
applications create unnecessary processing delays for both the NPC and 
employers. In order to address this concern, this final rule requires 
an employer to submit the Application for Temporary Employment 
Certification and all required supporting documentation using an 
electronic method(s) designated by the OFLC Administrator, unless the 
employer cannot file electronically due to disability or lack of 
internet access. The FLAG system used by the OFLC will not permit an 
employer to submit an application until the employer completes all 
required fields on the forms and uploads and saves to the pending 
application an electronic copy of all required documentation, including 
a copy of the job order submitted in accordance with Sec.  655.121. The 
Department estimates that 94 percent of applications are currently 
filed electronically and that this final rule would significantly 
increase the number of employers who submit electronic applications. 
This would result in material and time cost savings for employers. 
Electronic processing would also result in a time cost savings for the 
NPC. This final rule also provides that employers may file only one 
Application for Temporary Employment Certification for place(s) of 
employment contained within a single AIE covering the same occupation 
or comparable work by an employer for each period of employment, which 
will reduce the number of overall applications submitted. Finally, this 
final rule permits the use of electronic signatures as a valid form of 
the employer's original signature and, if applicable, the original 
signature of the employer's authorized attorney or agent.
    To estimate the material cost savings to employers due to 
electronic processing, the Department assumed that this final rule 
would result in six percent of H-2A employers switching to electronic 
processing of applications. The Department applied the growth rate of 
H-2A applications (3.1 percent) to the number of H-2A applications 
processed (11,527) to determine the



annual impacted number of applications. The Department then multiplied 
the percentage estimated to switch to electronic processing of 
applications (six percent) by the annual number of impacted H-2A 
applications to obtain the number of employers who would no longer be 
submitting by mail. For each application, a material cost was 
calculated by summing the price of a stamp ($0.58), the price of an 
envelope ($0.04), and the total cost of paper ($0.61). The total cost 
of paper was calculated by multiplying the cost of a sheet of paper 
($0.01) by the number of pages in the application (100 pages). The per-
application costs were then multiplied by the number of applications 
who would no longer be submitting by mail. This yields average annual 
undiscounted cost savings of $993.
    The total material cost savings from electronic processing over the 
10-year period is estimated at $9,933 undiscounted, or $8,662 and 
$7,338 at discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The 
annualized cost savings over the 10-year period is $1,015 and $1,045 at 
discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively.
    To estimate the time cost savings to employers due to electronic 
processing, the Department again estimated the number of affected 
applications by multiplying the assumed percentage of employers that 
would switch to electronic applications (six percent) by the total 
number of annually impacted H-2A applications. The Department assumed 
that the time savings due to electronic submission (rather than sealing 
and mailing an envelope) would be 5 minutes. The time cost savings were 
calculated by multiplying 5 minutes (0.083 hours) by the hourly 
compensation rate for Human Resources Specialists ($54.42 per hour). 
This time cost savings was then multiplied by the estimated number of 
applications expected to switch to electronic submission. This yields 
average annual undiscounted cost savings of $3,657.
    The total time cost savings from electronic processing over the 10-
year period is estimated at $36,566 undiscounted, or $31,886 and 
$27,011 at discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The 
annualized cost savings over the 10-year period is $3,738 and $3,846 at 
discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively.
    To estimate the material cost savings to employers due to the NPC 
sharing job orders with the SWAs electronically, the Department assumed 
that 100 percent of unique H-2A applicants would be affected. For each 
annually impacted H-2A application, a material cost was calculated by 
summing the price of a stamp ($0.58), the price of an envelope ($0.04), 
and the total cost of paper ($0.61). The total cost of paper was 
calculated by multiplying the cost of a sheet of paper ($0.01) by the 
number of pages in the application (100 pages). The per-application 
costs were then multiplied by the number of applications who would no 
longer be submitting by mail. This yields average annual undiscounted 
cost savings of $16,836.
    The total material cost savings over the 10-year period is 
estimated at $168,361 undiscounted, or $146,812 and $124,368 at 
discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The annualized 
cost savings over the 10-year period is $17,211 and $17,707 at discount 
rates of three and seven percent, respectively.
    To estimate the time cost savings to employers resulting from the 
NPC electronically sharing job orders with the SWAs, the Department 
again assumed that 100 percent of unique H-2A applicants would be 
affected. For each annually impacted H-2A application, the Department 
assumed that the time savings due to electronic submission (rather than 
sealing and mailing an envelope) would be 5 minutes. The time cost 
savings were calculated by multiplying 5 minutes in hours (0.083 hours) 
by the hourly compensation rate for Human Resources Specialists ($54.42 
per hour). This cost savings was then multiplied by the estimated 
number of applications switching to electronic submission. This yields 
average annual undiscounted cost savings of $61,976.
    The total time cost savings over the 10-year period is estimated at 
$619,762 undiscounted, or $540,438 and $457,818 at discount rates of 
three and seven percent, respectively. The annualized cost savings over 
the 10-year period is $63,356 and $65,183 at discount rates of three 
and seven percent, respectively.
    The Department assumes that the DOL staff will save approximately 1 
hour for each application that is now submitted electronically. To 
calculate the time cost savings to the Federal Government due to 
electronic processing, the Department first calculated the number of 
employers that would now submit electronically by multiplying the 
assumed percentage (six percent) by the total number of annually 
impacted H-2A applications. This cost savings was then multiplied by 
the per-application time cost savings, calculated by multiplying the 
time savings (1 hour) by the hourly compensation rate for DOL staff 
($84.01 per hour). This yields average annual undiscounted cost savings 
of $68,008.
    The total time cost savings over the 10-year period is estimated at 
$680,079 undiscounted, or $593,034 and $502,374 at discount rates of 
three and seven percent, respectively. The annualized cost savings over 
the 10-year period is $69,522 and $71,527 at discount rates of three 
and seven percent, respectively.
Non-Quantifiable Cost Savings
i. Cost Savings From Efficiencies Associated With Receiving More 
Complete and Accurate Applications
    The Department is modernizing the process by which H-2A employers 
submit job orders to the SWAs and applications to the Department 
through e-filing and requiring the designation of a valid email address 
for sending and receiving official correspondence during application 
processing, except where the employer has limited ability to use or 
access electronic forms as result of a disability or lacks access to e-
filing.
    The Department believes that transitioning to electronic 
submissions would result in additional cost savings to employers and to 
the NPC from the cost savings described above. Currently, submissions 
that are incomplete or obviously inaccurate upon their receipt result 
in a NOD on the employer's application. As a result, employers who 
submit incomplete applications must start the submission process from 
the beginning. This can lead to costly delays for employers, as well as 
costly processing time for the NPC.
    The requirement for electronic submissions would reduce the number 
of instances where incomplete applications are submitted because 
employers have not fully completed the form prior to submitting it. E-
filing permits automatic notification that an application is incomplete 
or obviously inaccurate and provides employers with an immediate 
opportunity to correct the errors or upload missing documentation. 
Additionally, the adoption of electronic submissions should reduce the 
amount of time it takes to correct errors because entries can simply be 
deleted, rather than requiring the production of new copies of the form 
after an error is detected.
    For the NPC, electronic filing and communications will improve the 
quality of information collected from employers, reduce administrative 
costs of communicating with employers to resolve obvious errors or 
receive complete information, and reduce the frequency of delays 
related to application processing.



ii. Cost Savings From Efficiencies Created by Acceptance of Electronic 
Signatures
    The Department will enable employers, agents, and attorneys to use 
electronic methods to sign or certify any document required under this 
subpart using a valid electronic signature method. The current practice 
of accepting electronic (scanned) copies of original signatures on 
documents has generated efficiencies in the application process, and 
the Department believes leveraging modern technologies to accept 
electronic signature methods can achieve even greater efficiencies and 
result in cost savings to employers and the NPC.
    Accepting electronic signature methods as a means of complying with 
original signature requirements for the H-2A program will reduce the 
costs for employers associated with printing, mailing, or delivering 
original signed paper documents or scanned copies of original 
signatures on documents to the NPC. Additionally, electronic signature 
methods give employers and their authorized attorneys or agents greater 
flexibility to conduct business with the Department--at any time and at 
any location with an internet connection--rather than needing to be 
located in a physical office. This frees valuable time for conducting 
other business tasks.
    The NPC anticipates additional cost savings from use of electronic 
signature methods. The acceptance of documents containing electronic 
signatures will facilitate the NPC's use of a more centralized document 
storage capability to access documents more efficiently during 
application processing, saving time and expense.
iii. Cost Savings From Efficiencies Created by the Use of Electronic 
Surety Bonds
    The Department also is developing a process for accepting 
electronic surety bonds through the FLAG system and is requiring the 
use of a standardized bond form. The Department believes that these 
changes will result in a cost savings to H-2ALCs and the NPC. Currently 
all H-2ALCs, even the majority that submit other components of their 
applications electronically, must submit original paper surety bonds 
before the temporary agricultural labor certifications can be issued. 
Accepting original electronic surety bonds will reduce the costs 
associated with mailing or delivering the original surety bonds to the 
NPC and the costs for NPC to transfer these bonds to WHD for 
enforcement purposes. Additionally, using a standardized bond form will 
reduce the likelihood of errors and the amount of time required for the 
NPC to review the bonds for compliance.
c. Qualitative Benefits Discussion
i. Surety Bonds
    The changes to the surety bond requirement, including the use of 
electronic surety bonds and a standardized bond form, will also result 
in unquantifiable benefits to the H-2ALCs in the form of a more 
streamlined application process with fewer delays. Accepting electronic 
surety bonds will mean that the NPC receives the required original bond 
with the rest of the application, and it will no longer be necessary to 
wait for the bond to arrive by mail or other delivery before issuing 
the temporary agricultural labor certification.
    Further, these changes and the changes to the required bond amounts 
will enhance WHD's enforcement capabilities by making it more certain 
that there will be a sufficient, compliant bond available to redress 
potential violations. This will advance the Department's goal of 
aggressively enforcing against program fraud and abuse that undermine 
the interests of U.S. workers.
4. Summary of the Analysis
    Exhibit 8 summarizes the estimated total costs and cost savings of 
this final rule over the 10-year analysis period. The change in the 
surety bond amounts has the largest effect as a cost.

  Exhibit 8--Estimated 10-Year Monetized Costs and Cost Savings of This
                         Final Rule by Provision
                            [2021 $Millions]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Total cost
                Provision                   Total cost        savings
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Surety Bond.............................          $25.76  ..............
Record Keeping..........................            0.29  ..............
Rule Familiarization....................            0.46  ..............
Electronic Processing and Process         ..............           $1.51
 Streamlining Cost......................
Undiscounted 10-Year Total..............           26.51            1.51
10-Year Total with a Discount Rate of 3%           22.96            1.32
10-Year Total with a Discount Rate of 7%           19.29            1.12
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Exhibit 9 summarizes the estimated total costs and cost savings of 
this final rule over the 10-year analysis period.
    The Department estimates the annualized costs of this final rule at 
$2.75 million and the annualized cost savings at $0.16 million, at a 
discount rate of seven percent. The Department estimates that this 
final rule would result in annualized net quantifiable costs of $2.59 
million and total 10-year net costs of $18.17 million, both at a 
discount rate of seven percent and expressed in 2021 dollars. The 
Department believes that the qualitative benefits outweigh the 
quantified net costs of this rule.

              Exhibit 9--Estimated Monetized Costs, Cost Savings, and Net Costs of This Final Rule
                                                [2021 $Millions]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                       Costs       Costs savings     Net costs
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2022............................................................           $2.32           $0.13           $2.19
2023............................................................            2.00            0.14            1.86
2024............................................................            2.14            0.14            2.00
2025............................................................            2.30            0.14            2.15
2026............................................................            2.46            0.15            2.32
2027............................................................            2.64            0.15            2.49



 
2028............................................................            2.84            0.16            2.68
2029............................................................            3.04            0.16            2.88
2030............................................................            3.26            0.17            3.09
2031............................................................            3.50            0.17            3.33
Undiscounted 10-Year Total......................................           26.51            1.51           25.00
10-Year Total with a Discount Rate of 3%........................           22.96            1.32           21.64
10-Year Total with a Discount Rate of 7%........................           19.29            1.12           18.17
10-Year Average.................................................            2.65            0.15            2.50
Annualized with a Discount Rate of 3%...........................            2.69            0.15            2.54
Annualized with a Discount Rate of 7%...........................            2.75            0.16            2.59
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

5. Regulatory Alternatives
    The Department considered two alternatives to the chosen approach 
for surety bonds. First the Department considered, as the first 
alternative, starting with the current (2010) bond amounts and then 
adjusting for wage growth as estimated by change in the average AEWR 
and for very large crew sizes by requiring additional surety for each 
additional 50 workers sought. This is the same approach as this final 
rule's surety bond structure except this alternative would replace the 
category for H-2ALCs requesting fewer than 25 workers with two 
categories: one with a lower required bond amount for H-2ALCs 
requesting fewer than 10 workers and another with the same required 
bond amount as this final rule for H-2ALCs requesting 10 to 24 workers. 
This would provide some relief to H-2ALCs who use between one and nine 
workers. It would have the same remaining categories as in this final 
rule. The Department estimated the cost of this alternative using the 
same method as in this final rule. Exhibit 10 summarizes the cost 
increases for this alternative.

                       Exhibit 10--Cost Increases Due to Changes in Required Bond Amounts
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Existing     Average number     Proposed        Change in
        Number of workers          required bond   of H-2ALCs in   required bond   required bond   Cost increase
                                      amount         FY 16-19         amount          amount
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1-9.............................          $5,000             196       $3,087.57      -$1,912.43         -$76.50
10-24...........................           5,000             120        7,718.92        2,718.92          108.76
25-49...........................          10,000              71       15,437.84        5,437.84          217.51
50-74...........................          20,000              51       30,875.68       10,875.68          435.03
75-100..........................          50,000              32       77,189.19       27,189.19        1,087.57
More than 100...................          75,000             135      115,783.78       40,783.78        1,631.35
Each Additional Set of 50                    N/A         \a\ 607       57,120.00       57,120.00        2,284.80
 Workers Greater than 100.......
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The total estimated cost of the first alternative over the 10-year 
period is $25.22 million undiscounted, or $21.78 million and $18.23 
million at discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The 
annualized cost of the 10-year period is $2.55 million and $2.60 
million at discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The 
Department prefers the approach used in this final rule because it 
maintains a high proportion of sufficient bonds.
    Under the second regulatory alternative the Department considered, 
the Department would base required bond amounts on estimated gross 
payroll based on the number of workers, applicable wage rates, and 
length of certification; then require a surety bond equaling five 
percent of this value. Under this alternative, the bond computation 
would account for more factors that potentially impact an H-2ALC's back 
wage liability and would thus be application-specific.
    The Department calculates the cost of this second alternative by 
first estimating gross payroll (i.e., number of workers x applicable 
wage rate x number of weekly hours x number of weeks in season) for 
each temporary agricultural labor certification and then taking the 
applicable percentage--five percent. The difference in bond amounts 
required under this alternative, then, is for each temporary 
agricultural labor certification the difference between the bond an H-
2ALC would pay under the 2010 H-2A Final Rule (between $5,000 and 
$75,000 based on number of workers) and the calculated alternative 
surety bond. Then, the assumed bond premium (four percent) is applied 
to calculate the cost for each temporary agricultural labor 
certification from FY 2016 to FY 2020 and the cost across 
certifications is summed for an annual total cost. To project the 
annual cost of this second alternative, the growth rate of H-2ALCs (7.3 
percent) is applied to the average annual total cost from FY 2016 to FY 
2020.
    The estimated total cost of the second alternative over the 10-year 
period is $6.46 million undiscounted, or $5.58 million and $4.67 
million at discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The 
annualized cost of the 10-year period is $654,196 and $664,778 at 
discount rates of three and seven percent, respectively. The Department 
prefers the chosen surety bond approach because it is expected to 
result in a higher proportion of sufficient bonds, thus providing 
greater protection for workers, while being easier to understand and 
administer because the bond amounts do not need to be calculated for 
every temporary agricultural labor certification.
    Exhibit 11 summarizes the estimated costs associated with the three 
considered surety bond approaches.





              Exhibit 11--Estimated Monetized Costs of this Final Rule and Regulatory Alternatives
                                                [2021 $Millions]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                    Regulatory      Regulatory
                                                                    Final rule     alternative 1   alternative 2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total 10-Year Cost..............................................          $25.76          $25.21           $6.46
Total with 3% Discount..........................................           22.25           21.78            5.58
Total with 7% Discount..........................................           18.62           18.22            4.67
Annualized Cost with 3% Discount................................            2.61            2.55            0.65
Annualized Cost with 7% Discount................................            2.65            2.59            0.66
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

B. Regulatory Flexibility Act, Small Business Regulatory Enforcement 
Fairness Act, and Executive Order 13272 (Proper Consideration of Small 
Entities in Agency Rulemaking)

    The RFA, 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq., as amended by the Small Business 
Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996, Public Law 104-121 (Mar. 
29, 1996), hereafter jointly referred to as the RFA, requires Federal 
agencies engaged in rulemaking to assess the impact of regulations that 
will have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of 
small entities.
    The Department believes that this final rule will not have a 
significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. 
Based on this determination, the Department certifies that this final 
rule does not have a significant economic impact on a substantial 
number of small entities. Therefore, a final regulatory flexibility 
analysis updating the initial regulatory flexibility analysis included 
in the NPRM is not required. The factual basis for this certification 
is set forth below and is based on the Department's analysis of each 
actual individual small entity impacted by this final rule.
1. Description of the Number of Small Entities to Which This Final Rule 
Will Apply
a. Definition of Small Entity
    The RFA defines a ``small entity'' as a (1) small not-for-profit 
organization, (2) small governmental jurisdiction, or (3) small 
business. The Department used the entity size standards defined by the 
Small Business Administration (SBA), in effect as of August 19, 2019, 
to classify entities as small.\137\ SBA establishes separate standards 
for individual 6-digit North American Industry Classification System 
(NAICS) industry codes, and standard cutoffs are typically based on 
either the average number of employees, or the average annual receipts. 
For example, small businesses are generally defined as having fewer 
than 500, 1,000, or 1,250 employees in manufacturing industries and 
less than $7.5 million in average annual receipts for nonmanufacturing 
industries. However, some exceptions do exist, the most notable being 
that depository institutions (including credit unions, commercial 
banks, and noncommercial banks) are classified by total assets (small 
defined as less than $550 million in assets). Small governmental 
jurisdictions are another noteworthy exception. They are defined as the 
governments of cities, counties, towns, townships, villages, school 
districts, or special districts with populations of less than 50,000 
people.\138\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \137\ SBA, Table of Small Business Size Standards Matched to 
North American Industry Classification System Codes (Aug. 2019), 
https://www.sba.gov/document/support--table-size-standards.
    \138\ See https://advocacy.sba.gov/resources/the-regulatory-flexibility-act for details.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

b. Number of Small Entities
    The Department collected NAICS code, employment, and annual revenue 
data for unique entities in the certification data, from the business 
information provider Data Axle, and merged those data into the H-2A 
disclosure data for FY 2020 and FY 2021. This process allowed the 
Department to identify the number and type of small entities in the H-
2A disclosure data as well as their annual revenues.
    The Department identified 9,927 unique employers (excluding labor 
contractors). Of those 9,927 employers, the Department was able to 
obtain data matches of revenue and employees for 2,615 H-2A employers 
in the FY 2020 and FY 2021 certification data. Of those 2,615 
employers, the Department determined that 2,105 were small (80.5 
percent). These unique small entities had an average of 11 employees 
and average annual revenue of approximately $3.62 million. Of these 
small unique entities, 2,085 of them had revenue data available from 
Data Axle.
    The Department identified 1,344 unique employers that are labor 
contractors. Of those 1,344 labor contractors, the Department was able 
to obtain data matches of revenue and employees for 152 H-2ALCs in the 
FY 2020 and FY 2021 certification data. Of those 152 labor contractors, 
the Department determined that 137 were small (90.1 percent). These 
unique small labor contractors had an average of 15 employees and 
average annual revenue of approximately $3.81 million. Of these small 
unique labor contractors, 134 of them had revenue data available from 
Data Axle.
    The Department's analysis of the impact of this proposed rule on 
small entities is based on the number of small unique entities (2,242 
small entities with revenue data = 2,085 small non-labor contractor 
entities and 134 small labor contractor entities). The remaining 
unmatched entities are assumed to have impacts similar to these matched 
entities. To provide clarity on the agricultural industries impacted by 
this regulation, Exhibit 12 shows the number of unique non-H-2ALC small 
entity employers with temporary agricultural labor certifications in FY 
2020 to 2021 within the top-10 NAICS code at the 6-digit. Exhibit 13 
shows the number of unique H-2ALC small entity employers with temporary 
agricultural labor certifications in FY 2020 to 2021 within the top-10 
NAICS code at the 6-digit.

                  Exhibit 12--Number of H-2A Small Non-Labor Contractor Employers by NAICS Code
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                     Number of
            6-Digit NAICS                             Description                    employers        Percent
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
111998...............................  All Other Miscellaneous Crop Farming.....             611              29
444220...............................  Nursery, Garden Center, and Farm Supply               162               8
                                        Stores.



 
561730...............................  Landscaping Services.....................             134               6
445230...............................  Fruit and Vegetable Markets..............             127               6
424480...............................  Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Merchant                     84               4
                                        Wholesalers.
111339...............................  Other Noncitrus Fruit Farming............              78               4
112990...............................  All Other Animal Production..............              57               3
424930...............................  Flower, Nursery Stock, and Florists'                   51               2
                                        Supplies Merchant Wholesalers.
424910...............................  Farm Supplies Merchant Wholesalers.......              41               2
484230...............................  Specialized Freight (except Used Goods)                39               2
                                        Trucking, Long-Distance.
Other NAICS..........................  .........................................             721              34
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                    Exhibit 13--Number of H-2A Small Labor Contractor Employers by NAICS Code
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                     Number of
            6-Digit NAICS                             Description                    employers        Percent
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
484230...............................  Specialized Freight (except Used Goods)                11               8
                                        Trucking, Long-Distance.
236115...............................  New Single-Family Housing Construction                 11               8
                                        (except For-Sale Builders).
111998...............................  All Other Miscellaneous Crop Farming.....              10               7
115115...............................  FLCs and Crew Leaders....................               8               6
561311...............................  Employment Placement Agencies............               7               5
115113...............................  Crop Harvesting, Primarily by Machine....               7               5
541110...............................  Offices of Lawyers.......................               6               4
445230...............................  Fruit and Vegetable Markets..............               5               4
115112...............................  Soil Preparation, Planting, and                         5               4
                                        Cultivating.
115116...............................  Farm Management Services.................               4               3
Other NAICS..........................  .........................................              62              46
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2. Projected Impacts to Affected Small Entities
    The Department has estimated the incremental costs for small 
businesses from the baseline \139\ of this final rule. We estimated the 
costs of (a) new surety bond amounts required for H-2ALCs based on the 
number of H-2A employees; (b) recordkeeping costs associated with 
maintaining records of employee's home address in their respective home 
countries; (c) recordkeeping costs incurred by the abandonment or 
dismissal with cause of employees; and (d) time to read and review this 
final rule. The cost estimates included in this analysis for the 
provisions of this final rule are consistent with those presented in 
the E.O. 12866 section.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \139\ 2010 H-2A Final Rule, 75 FR 6884; TEGL No. 17-06, Change 
1, Special Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Employers in 
the Itinerant Animal Shearing Industry under the H-2A Program (June 
14, 2011); TEGL No. 33-10, Special Procedures: Labor Certification 
Process for Itinerant Commercial Beekeeping Employers in the H-2A 
Program (June 14, 2011); TEGL No. 16-06, Change 1, Special 
Procedures: Labor Certification Process for Multi-State Custom 
Combine Owners/Operators under the H-2A Program (June 14, 2011).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Department estimates that small businesses not classified as H-
2ALCs, 2,085 unique employers, would incur a one-time cost of $54.42 to 
familiarize themselves with the rule and an annual cost of $3.59 
associated with recordkeeping requirements.\140\ While the Department 
estimates that small businesses would also incur annual cost savings 
associated with the electronic processing of applications, the 
Department is unable to quantify these costs savings due to data 
limitations concerning the proportion of small businesses who currently 
select to file electronically. However, the Department conservatively 
estimates this cost as de minimis by excluding them from the 
unquantified cost savings discussed in the