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Monday, December 12, 2011 - 11:14am

Worker Visas Are Big Business

Officials at one Georgia company are hiring more staff and investing heavily in the future. That’s because its business – finding legal foreign workers for farms – is suddenly in demand.

AgWorks of Lake Park, near Valdosta, applies for foreign visas on behalf of farmers looking for legal foreign employees.

It especially helps smaller growers who say the federal foreign guest-worker program, known as H2A, is a hassle.

AgWorks owner Dan Bremer says he expects to be busy in the next few months before the spring harvest.

That’s because both Georgia and Alabama have passed strict laws barring companies from hiring illegal workers.

“We’ve hired several new people, we’ve put in a whole new computer system and we’ve run fiber optic wires all in our computer system," he said in a phone interview. "We’ve spent a considerable amount of money getting geared up for this because I know it’s coming. And we’ve already had an increase in our customer base."

Two Georgia Congressmen have proposed a bill to overhaul the H2A program, and a third has written a new federal immigration law.

But Bremer, a former U.S. Department of Labor official, doubts there will be movement on any of the legislation soon.

“I see absolutely no legislation coming forward – no plausible legislation coming forward – that would fix the H2A paperwork burden. And I don’t see any comprehensive immigration legislation coming forward,” he said.

Many Georgia farmers say the government needs to fix the visa program quickly because the new state immigration law scared away migrant workers during the spring harvest.

But Bremer says most likely, elected officials won't take these issues up until after the 2012 presidential election.

Starting in January, many Georgia companies will have to check their workers’ immigration status.

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