August 6, 2010 for the Missoulian

Luz Aldaco and Eduardo Ramirez dug narrow trenches in a Missoula lawn Friday morning, their spades clanging as they hit buried stones in the path of a new irrigation line.

The duo of migrant workers from south-central Mexico are back in Missoula this summer to work at Ibey Sprinkler, Landscape and Nursery after becoming regulars on the company’s peak-season crew in recent years.

They are among 574 temporary foreign laborers working for non-agricultural Montana businesses during the 2009-10 fiscal year, a number that decreased by two-thirds after five years of growth.

In fact, fiscal year 2008-09 saw an all-time high of 1,707 non-agricultural foreign laborers on the job in Montana. The shift was revealed in U.S. Department of Labor statistics on H2B visas, released by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification each July.

Economists at the University of Montana and Center for the Rocky Mountain West provided the explanation.

“With unemployment levels and wages rising in our state and region more recently, these employers have been more able to find workers locally,” regional economist Larry Swanson said.

Read the full story here.

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