Under the H-2A visa program, farmers and authorized employers/agents are permitted to bring foreign nationals or "guest workers" here to the U.S. to fill temporary agricultural positions.
The program, which has seen participation grow slowly but steadily in recent years, has long had its share of supporters and detractors. Specifically, the former argue that the program helps address a very real need, while ensuring that workers are provided with free housing, fair wages and legal status. As for the latter, they argue that workers are extended only limited rights and vulnerable to mistreatment.
While these are all valid points, the reality is that the H-2A visa program is not only here to stay, but actually getting bigger with each passing year.
By way of illustration, consider recently released figures from the U.S. Department of Labor showing that during the first three months of 2017, the federal agency approved an astounding 69,272 applications to fill agricultural jobs with on H-2A workers.
To put this in perspective, this is over 18,000 more applications than the same time last year, or a 36 percent spike.
As to the reasons behind this recent jump in the number of guest workers on U.S. farms, experts have identified two primary reasons:
- Recruiting efforts to fill these jobs with American workers have not been producing the desired results for several years and, as a result, the worker shortage has become increasing acute.
- Farmers are concerned about running afoul of U.S. immigration laws, the enforcement of which has become a priority for the Trump administration.
It's worth noting that while H-2A guest workers still account for only about 10 percent of U.S. farm workers, experts indicate that this could climb as high as 20 percent if current trends continue.
As to the locations with the highest numbers of H-2A workers, these included Florida, Georgia, California and North Carolina.
If you are an employer with questions about an immigration-related matter, including the complex process of hiring foreign workers, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.