The Georgia Legislature is currently debating sweeping changes to their employment and immigration laws. Those changes could dramatically affect the way employers hire workers in the state.
Georgia state government, like many other state governments, is under tremendous revenue pressure. The belief is that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from Georgia workers as well as adding to the tax burden of those who are working. Both the House and Senate in Georgia have bills that would require employers to use the federal eVerify program. The EVerify program is an electronic means of checking the employment status for potential employees. This is expected to catch those workers whose names and numbers do not match or who may be in the country legally (student visa, tourist visa etc.) and not be eligible to work.
Proponents of these bills say that the thousands of illegals in Georgia are taking jobs away from people who are willing to work but can’t find employment. They also say the low wage workers are putting downward pressure on pay for unskilled labor. Opponents say that the jobs most migrant workers are doing are those that native Georgians are not willing to do at any price.
Agriculture is caught right in the middle of this debate. The vast majority of agricultural employers attempt to hire documented workers but the sheer number of workers needed for a relatively short period of time makes hiring local workers almost impossible. They rely on migrant workers to fill that gap. Those migrants produce documents that the employer MUST take on face value for fear of discrimination complaints.
The only alternative to open hiring is the use of the federal H2A program. That program allows unskilled agricultural workers to come into the country for temporary work. Employers must request these workers and pay all the fees associated with getting them to the farm or gin as well as paying an inflated wage rate. This is a very expensive and cumbersome program that also forces employers to hire US workers first. In the experience of most, the local workers typically don’t last due to the long hours, drug testing and other reasons. The high turnover rate and expense associated with the program cause most potential employers to shy away from the program.
Many ag groups are pushing to eliminate the EVerify mandate from the bills in Atlanta. Many states are looking to see what Georgia does as one of the largest employers in the Southeast. Only time will tell. Look at the Southeastern Ginners Blog for updates. southeasternginners.blogspot.com