The farm worker crisis

The number of foreign farm workers entering through the temporary H 2A visa program jumped from 77,300 in FY 2011 to 257,700 in FY 2019, a 230% increase. In 2005 there were less than 50,000 visa holders. The five leading job titles were general farm workers, berries, tobacco, fruits and vegetables and apples. Jobs that require year-round employment, such as diary work, are not serviced by this visa.

Agriculture Dept data suggests that 600,000 of the 800,000 crop workers today are either visa holders (about 250,000) or working illegally (about 350,000). Farm workers are hard to count, thus the figures are approximations.

Put this into historical context: in 1950 there were 7.6 million family farm workers and 2.3 million hired workers. In 2000, the number of family workers declined by 75% and hired workers by half.

According to the Agriculture Dept’s official website, “the share of hired crop farmworkers who were not legally authorized to work in the United States grew from roughly 15% in 1989-91” about 50% today. Only a quarter are U.S. born.

Thus the farm workforce has become increasingly dependent on hired (and unauthorized) foreign workers. The average wage of crop workers is about $13 an hour.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, HR,5038, which on 11/21/19 was approved by an 18-12 vote of the House Judiciary Committee, is intended to normalize substantially all farm unauthorized workers into legal temporary status.

Leave a Reply