H-2A Program in NumbersBy Jan Hogewoning | Wed, 03/25/2020 - 11:34
The panic emerging from the decision to stop issuing of new H-2A guest visas has shone a light on the importance of Mexican guest workers for US agricultural operations. While overall migration to the US has been decreasing over the years, the H-2A guest worker program has seen rapid growth. There is no annual cap on the number of applicants and most are approved upon visiting and completing a process at a US consulate in Northern Mexico.
According to statistics compiled by the US Department of Labor:
• 165,741 H-2A jobs were certified in 2016
• H-2A jobs grew 14 percent in 2016 compared to 2015
• H-2A jobs grew 160 percent in 2016 compared to 2006
• 134,368 H-2A visas were issued in 2016
• Jobs were certified for an average of 167 days in 2016
• In 2016, approximately half of jobs were certified in five states: Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington, and California
• H-2A workers represent 7 percent of the US’ agricultural workforce
Most immigrant crop workers in the US’ agricultural sector are illegal. However, as unauthorized migration has slowed over the years and many farm workers leave farms for other jobs, H-2A has become a more attractive, albeit more expensive option for employers. Most H-2A workers stay in the US for less than the maximum ten months a year. The average stay is 167 days, about seven months, with 24 working days per month. Some guest workers perform more than one job, but this number has been going down. In 2006, each guest worker had 1.6 jobs on average, in 2016 this was 1.3. This is based on the number of officially certified jobs, which shrouds other farm work that does not fall in this classification.
While the program requires that the employer arranges adequate housing and pay the guest worker a similar wage to US citizens, there have been accusations of wage theft and abuse. Employers themselves, on the other hand, complain that the system is too bureaucratic. In 2018, the Trump administration vowed to streamline the process. In July 2019, the Department of Labor released a proposal to update the program. This update included mandatory electronic filing of job orders and applications, a stricter methodology to calculate the worker’s wage and stronger standards for housing. However, critics contended it would also reduce workers’ protections. On December 11 , 2019, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which includes more options for a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized farm workers. The bill also included several modifications to expand H-2A workers’ rights. For now, the bill awaits approval from the US Senate. Skopos Labs, a tracking and prediction platform, estimates the bill has a 20 percent chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate.