The U.S. Department of Labor announced the minimum hourly wage rates that employers must pay H-2A workers in order to ensure that the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers are not adversely affected. These H-2A adverse effect wage rates are calculated for each occupation and location using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual wages rates from its regional Farm Labor Survey of nonfamily field and livestock workers.

Each year, the Labor Department publishes these rates in the Federal Register to notify employers of their responsibilities if they choose to participate in the H-2A temporary visa program. The rates are effective the day they are published and apply only to the H-2A program. A notice is available to view at http://federalregister.gov/a/2011-32842.

"Ensuring that employers participating in the H-2A program adhere to these wages helps protect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers while providing a legal means for employers to access foreign workers with critical skills needed to help keep our economy strong," said Jane Oates, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training. "Employers who play by the rules deserve to compete on a level playing field, and all workers deserve to work with dignity under the full protection of our laws."

The rates are being published earlier than anticipated in order to provide growers with as much advance notice of changes as possible and to reduce application processing delays. The amounts that employers may charge their workers for providing three meals a day and the maximum travel subsistence reimbursement that a worker with receipts may claim in 2012 will be published in a separate Federal Register notice in early 2012.

The complete list of rates, answers to frequently asked questions and a new handbook for small businesses will be available online at http://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov beginning Dec. 22.