Temporary Farm Labor H-2A visas have surged

I noted the other day that Florida farms are using the temporary farm worker program, H-2A, to make up for labor shortages, which the new immigration law of the state will exacerbate.  Here I give an overview of the H-2A program (thanks mainly to here).

The H-2A temporary farm worker visa program is a United States immigration program that allows employers to bring foreign agricultural workers to the country on a temporary basis to fill seasonal or temporary agricultural jobs that cannot be filled by domestic workers. The program is managed by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Unlike some other temporary worker visa programs, the H-2A program does not have an annual numerical cap on the number of visas issued.

Because the visa is seasonal, it is used for crop farms and not for diary and other farms with continuous year-round operations.

In FY22, some 276,000 H-2A visas or 93 percent went to Mexicans, 9,500 or three percent to South Africans, and 4,900 or two percent to Jamaicans.

The process of using the system starts with a certification for a certain number of workers. During the first half of FY23, 14% of H-2A certifications were in Florida, 12% in California, 9% each in Georgia and Washington, and 7% in North Carolina; these states account of 50% of the program.

As the graph shows there has been a huge growth in H-2A visa workers. This is due in part to the decline of unauthorized workers after the 2008 financial crisis, and more restrictions on unauthorized worker hiring by southern states (go here). Also, it appears that more farms – typically large ones – have learned how to use the program.  Some 12,000 farms are formally certified by the Dept of Labor to use the program, but about 5% of them account for 2/3 of program workers.  About 100 farms with employment of over 500 employ on average 1,200 program workers.

Roughly 40% of H-2A jobs are filled by intermediary agencies (“FLCs”) which recruit and place the worker. These agencies, rather than the farm, are the prime party accountable for compliance.

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