Employment:

Actions Needed to Improve the Transparency and Reliability of Labor's Data on the H-2A Program

GAO-13-144R: Published: Jul 2, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 2, 2013.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Revae E. Moran
(202) 512-7215
moranr@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The H-2A visa program allows U.S. employers that anticipate a shortage of domestic agricultural workers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis. GAO issued a report on the process employers follow in applying for these workers and made several recommendations to the Department of Labor (Labor) for improving that process In pursuing work on that report, GAO found that the number of applications submitted by employers for H-2A worker positions, the number of H-2A worker positions requested, and the number of worker positions approved by Labor cited in Labor's annual reports from fiscal year 2006 and FY 2012 sometimes differed from the numbers reported by Labor in the data it makes available to the public on its website. GAO also found that much of the data Labor reported from applications submitted on behalf of multiple employers for this same period contained inconsistencies and that Labor lacked internal controls to monitor and prevent these inconsistencies. As a result, GAO was unable to rely on the data to draw conclusions about trends in usage of the H-2A program and, in some cases, found the data to be unreliable in terms of the number and identity of the employers seeking H-2A workers. Finally, GAO found that the new system Labor is using to allow employers to file their H-2A applications electronically, iCERT, does not contain data edit checks to ensure its accuracy. To inform users of the data's reliability and completeness and to improve the quality of future data, GAO recommends that Labor take steps to disclose the limitations of the H-2A data it posts on its website, and that Labor verify the data provided on multi-employer applications.

Why GAO Did This Study

In pursuing work requested by the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing, and Agriculture Security that resulted in the report noted above, GAO identified inconsistencies in the data reported by Labor on the H-2A program. This letter summarizes GAO's key findings on the reliability of the data.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Secretary of Labor direct the Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training to take the following actions:

1. Enhance the transparency of the data reported to the public on the H-2A program in the data files posted on Labor's website by disclosing the limitations of the data. For example, note that the number of H-2A positions requested by employers represents the number requested on their initial applications and does not consistently reflect later changes to the applications, such as increases or decreases in the number of positions requested, and that caution should be exercised in using the data to draw conclusions about trends in the H-2A program.

2. Enhance the validity of the data reported in the data files posted to its website on multi-employer applications by collecting separate data on where workers will be employed and where they will be housed, and by providing additional guidance on how to report the number of worker positions requested.

3. Improve the reliability of the data on H-2A applications filed on behalf of multiple employers in the new H-2A module of the iCERT system by assessing the feasibility of adding data edit checks to the module that would flag inconsistencies in the data. For example, one check could compare the total number of H-2A positions requested on a multi-employer application to the sum of the number of positions listed on the application for each employer listed and flag applications for further review if the numbers do not match.

For more information, contact Revae Moran at (202) 512-7215 or moranr@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training to enhance the transparency of the data reported to the public on the H-2A program in the data files on Labor's website by disclosing the limitations of the data, including that the number of H-2A worker positions requested by employers represents the number requested on their initial applications and does not consistently reflect later changes to the applications, such as increases or decreases in the number of worker positions requested or approved, and that caution should be applied in using the data to draw conclusions about trends in the H-2A program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training to enhance the validity of the data reported in the data files on multi-employer applications by collecting separate data on where workers will be employed and where they will be housed, and by providing additional guidance on how to report requested worker positions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training to improve the reliability of the data on H-2A applications filed on behalf of multiple employers in the new H-2A module of the iCERT system by assessing the feasibility of adding data edit checks to the module that would flag inconsistencies in the data. For example, one check could compare the total number of H-2A positions requested on a multi-employer application to the sum of the number of positions listed on the application for each employer listed and flag applications for further review if the numbers do not match.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Apr 9, 2014

    Mar 5, 2014

    Jan 23, 2014

    Dec 20, 2013

    Dec 6, 2013

    Dec 2, 2013

    Nov 4, 2013

    Jul 19, 2013

    Jul 2, 2013

    May 30, 2013

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here