Rural Migration News reports that temporary farm workers have more than doubled in numbers in the past few years, and are approaching 10% of the entire wage workers in farming.
The H-2A program has since 1987 allowed farmers anticipating too few farm workers to apply for certification to employ guest workers. The H-2 program was created in the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act.
Between the 1950s and the 1990s, most H-2/A workers were Jamaicans who hand cut sugar cane in Florida and picked apples along the eastern seaboard. The number of H-2A jobs certified fell after the Florida sugar cane harvest was mechanized in response to worker suits alleging underpayment of wages. In FY1985, the US Department of Labor certified 20,700 jobs to be filled by then H-2 workers, including 10,000 in sugar cane.
In 2012, when DOL certified 85,248 jobs to be filled by H-2A workers, 5,400 certified employers offered an average 33 weeks of employment for an average 43 hours a week.
Farm employers must pay the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which is the average hourly earnings of field and livestock workers reported to USDA by farm employers the previous year. AEWRs for 2017 range from $10.38 an hour in the south to $13.79 in the Plains states, above federal and state minimum wages. Farmers would like to end recruitment, housing, and wage requirements.
Since the 2008-09 recession, farmer requests for H-2A workers have increased, and the number of jobs certified to be filled by H-2A workers could top 200,000 jobs in 2017.
Average employment covered by unemployment insurance on US crop farms is almost 900,000, including 560,000 workers hired directly by crop farmers and 331,000 workers brought to farms by crop support services. If 160,000 H-2A workers are employed an average 26 weeks in FY17, they would be equivalent to 80,000 full-time workers, and H-2A workers would be nine percent of all workers employed on crop farms.