(Jan. 21, 11:16 p.m.) A federal judge declined to prevent the outgoing Bush administration from implementing new rules for guest agricultural workers, but one lobbyist said the uncertainty for agricultural employers may persist at least through this spring.

The Keene, Calif.-based United Farm Workers union and Washington, D.C.-based Farmworker Justice organization asked U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina to issue a temporary restraining order and halt the implementation of the new H-2A rules by the Department of Labor. Urbina declined to issue the order on Jan. 15.

The unions argued in their lawsuit that the regulations would lower wages in the field and make it easier for contractors to ignore hiring legal U.S. workers.

Urbina, however, said the claims did not come with enough proof that the H-2A reforms would cause immediate harm to U.S. workers through job or wage losses.

First proposed in February 2008, the rules went into effect Jan. 17. The regulations make it easier for growers to qualify for the program and change the way guest worker wages are calculated.

Craig Regelbrugge, vice president for government relations for the American Nursery and Landscaping Association, Washington, D.C., said that while the judge denied the temporary restraining order the lawsuit is not settled yet. Meanwhile, users of the H-2A program and the government officials who administer it face a steep learning curve, he said.

Transitional provisions are now in effect, and full compliance is set for July 1, Regelbrugge said. Current users will be scrambling to figure out the new rules, he said.

“It will be a very uncertain spring, and there is a question of whether Congress will intervene to block it and also what will be the outcome of the litigation,” he said.