Are you a US farmer that needs seasonal or temporary labor to grow, cultivate, and harvest crops but cannot find domestic workers? The US H-2A temporary agricultural workers program, often known as the H-2A visa program, allows foreigners to immigrate to the US as agricultural workers and assists American farmers in filling labor shortages by employing employees from other nations.
This article will tell you about the H-2A temporary agricultural workers program, how to apply for it, and farmers’ salaries in all US states. This article will briefly talk about the application process. If you would like to learn about the H2A visa thoroughly, read our article about the US H2A work visa.
H-2A Temporary Visa for Agricultural Workers in the US
The H-2A temporary agricultural program assists firms that foresee a shortage of available domestic employees in bringing foreign agriculture workers to the United States to conduct temporary or seasonal agricultural work such as planting, growing, or harvesting operations.
Temporary or seasonal agricultural employment can occur on various sites, depending on the sort of work required, such as:
Seasonal labor requires more assistance than usual since the task is bound to a specific time of year by an occasion or pattern, such as a brief yearly growth cycle. Therefore, temporary employment is limited to one year.
According to this, employers in the United States that own farms, agricultural enterprises, or corporations can hire farm workers from other nations. These farm laborers will assist employers with agricultural-related tasks for a certain amount of time. In addition, there is no limit on H-2A visas. This implies that everyone who applies for and is granted a visa can come to the United States to work, and there are no constraints on how many individuals can be hired in this capacity.
America’s Farms Labor Shortage Crisis
Based on the American Farm Bureau Federation, agriculture in the United States requires 1.5 to 2 million hired labor each year. However, farmers have had difficulty filling these roles; in 2019, 56 percent of California farmers claimed to be unable to locate all of the required staff in the previous five years.
This is due, in part, to the fact that, even when salaries and privileges are boosted, there are not quite enough American citizens applying. The present agricultural labor is likewise aging, necessitating the recruitment of new people to replace them. Immigrants have filled these labor shortages for years. Still, fewer immigrants have traveled to the United States to work in agriculture in recent years, owing to the current US immigration policy and growing Mexican earnings.
Because of the workforce shortfall, American agriculture is at a severe disadvantage. The difficulty of American producers to locate reliable sources of labor is a crucial cause for the significant rise in the quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables imported into the United States, losing money in sales and tens of thousands of jobs. In addition, crops wither in the fields without employees, amounting to food waste and millions of dollars in missed productivity.
This persistent labor scarcity was aggravated in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, which compelled companies to keep workers at home and limited access to foreign-born laborers that farmers had planned to hire.
Statistics of Agricultural Workers in the US
Immigrant agricultural laborers account for around 73% of agriculture workers in the US today. Farm labor is a critically necessary job that keeps food on the tables, propels the economy, and sustains our neighborhoods. The food and agricultural sector as a whole is worth $1.053 trillion.
Every state produces food, although California, Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, and Minnesota account for more than one-third of total agricultural output value in the United States. While specific industries, such as animal production, are spread across the country, others, including lettuce cultivated in Arizona or poultry farming in southeastern states like Georgia and Alabama, focus on specific locations.
Who Can Apply for An H-2A Visa for Agricultural Workers?
Employers are not only allowed to hire foreign agricultural workers. To join the program, employers must actively recruit US employees in collaboration with the State Workforce Agency. In addition, the State Workforce Agency will publicize its job posting to attract US workers.
Employers must accept qualified references from US workers who apply for the position. When a competent US worker comes, employers must hire them until half of the work duration indicated in the employment contract has expired. There is no further affirmative requirement to employ after 50%. If an employer has been impacted by a strike, work stoppage, or layoff within the last 60 days, they may not be eligible for the H-2A Temporary visa program.
H-2A visa recipients include both US farm employers and international personnel. Any US farm owner in need of additional labor is eligible to begin the H-2A visa procedure for foreign workers. They must meet the following requirements:
- They should only provide temporary and seasonal agricultural employment.
- Demonstrate that no US employees are willing, eligible, or available to fill those roles.
- Demonstrate that recruiting foreign workers will not have a detrimental impact on US employees’ pay and working conditions in the same industry.
- Have all of the essential documentation and petition permissions on hand.
In addition to the criteria for employers, there are also conditions for employees. The following standards must be met to be eligible for an H-2A visa as an employee:
- Find a job with a US firm that provides temporary farm employment.
- Demonstrate that they plan to return to their native nation after their visa expires.
- Be from a particular country. Not all agricultural laborers from all nations are permitted to work in the United States.
The number of nations from which H-2A workers can be employed has been decided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If you would like to know about these countries, read our article about the US H2A work visa.
Nevertheless, if a US firm wants to engage an agricultural worker from a nation not on the list, they must follow specific requirements, including:
- Send a written request to the DHS.
- List the foreign workers’ names, birth dates, nations of birth, and countries of citizenship.
- Submit evidence demonstrating the US profits from the employees being granted an H-2A visa.
The DHS will consider the request and may amend the list to include that nation if they judge that having that worker in the country is in the best interests of the US.
Who May Qualify for H-2A Classification?
To be eligible for H-2A nonimmigrant status, the petitioner must meet the following requirements:
- Provide employment that is temporary or seasonal.
- Show that there aren’t enough American employees who are able, willing, qualified, and accessible to undertake the temporary labor.
- Demonstrate that hiring H-2A employees will not harm the wages and employment conditions of similarly employed US workers.
Generally speaking, the H-2A petition includes a single legitimate temporary labor certification from the US Department of Labor. (In some “emerging circumstances,” there is a limited exemption to this rule.)
H-2A Visa Application Paths for Agriculture Workers
These phases and federal agencies are often involved in the H-2A visa application process and extension process.
The usual filing procedure for employing H-2A employees should take approximately 75 days and contain the phases listed below.
- The agriculture worker applies to the local State Workforce Agency for a domestic work order.
- The agriculture worker goes to the Department of Labor’s Chicago National Processing Center to apply for a temporary labor certification.
- The Department makes the ultimate conclusion of Labor’s Chicago National Processing Center.
- The farmer applies for an H-2A visa through US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Employees apply for the H-2A visa through the Department of State and attend consulate interviews.
- Approved employees travel to the job location and arrive on time with an arrival/departure record.
If H-2A employees are required in fewer than 75 days, the farmer might pursue the emergency filing process.
At the same time as filing an emergency request, the farmer should register a job order with the State Workforce Agency and submit an application for a temporary labor certification at the Chicago National Processing Center of the Department of Labor. The farmer should then proceed in the same manner as any other file.
- The Department makes the ultimate conclusion of Labor’s Chicago National Processing Center.
- The farmer applies for an H-2A visa through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Employees apply for the H-2A visa through the Department of State’s National Processing Center and attend consulate interviews.
- Approved employees travel to the job location and arrive on time with arrival or departure documentation.
Farmers that require employees in 44 days or fewer should contact the Department of Labor’s Chicago National Processing Center. They can use the email address “[email protected]” to verify that all H-2A visa program stages are completed before the start date. The email’s subject line should be “H-2A Program Question: Immediate Need for H-2A Workers.” Farmers will be required to justify their use of the emergency claim process.
Agriculture workers have two choices for extending employees on a current H-2A visa contract.
- A short-term visa extension of fewer than two weeks
- The agriculture worker files a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- A long-term visa extension of more than two weeks
- The agriculture worker files a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- The agriculture worker writes a note to the United States Department of Labor’s Chicago National Processing Center explaining his need for an extension.
How to Immigrate to the US as an Agriculture Worker?
The employer must fulfill a few processes before the applicant may submit for an H-2A visa. Following this, the candidate must satisfy the following steps:
Step 1: Fill out the DS-160 form online.
Step 2: Make payment for the application fee
Step 3: Arrange for and finish a visa interview.
Step 4: If the application is granted, the applicant must apply for visa stamping.
An H-2A petitioner simply has to complete three stages to recruit temporary foreign agriculture workers in the US. These stages are as follows:
Step 1: Apply for a temporary labor certification with the US Department of Labor.
Step 2: Files Form I-129 with USCIS.
Step 3: Once Form I-129 is authorized, foreign employees outside the United States apply for a visa.
Agriculture Workers’ Salary in the US
In the US, the average wage for an hour for a farm worker is $15.72. 577 salaries were recorded and were last updated on June 3, 2022.
Agricultural worker level
Agricultural workers’ salary in the US by state
Benefits of H2A Visa for Agriculture Workers
- You can enter the United States for temporary labor and receive all employee perks.
- Your dependents may accompany you to the United States.
- The H2A visa allows you to travel freely in and out of the United States.
- If you get a new work offer, you can move to employment.
2022 Update: The Temporary H-2A Visa Program is Necessary, But It Is Sufficient.
The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Program is the most common means for immigrant workers to conduct short-term farm labor in the United States lawfully. If there is insufficient domestic labor, US farm owners can sponsor agricultural workers for a temporary employment visa.
In 2019, around 258,000 immigrant workers were awarded temporary H-2A visas, an increase from 48,000 positions approved in 2005 but still less than 4% of the entire number of workers required for food production. Florida, Georgia, Washington, California, and North Carolina were the top five US states with the most H-2A agriculture workers.
While the existing H-2A program assists in addressing labor shortages, more must be done to guarantee farmworkers have access to fundamental rights and safeguards from chronically low salaries, overcrowded or hazardous living conditions, and a lack of access to health insurance.
Furthermore, farmers claim that using the H-2A system is costly and time-consuming. For example, workers come 22 days late on average to pick crops. In addition, farmers in year-round industries like dairy and pig farming cannot participate since permits are only available for seasonal employees.
2022 Update: A lawsuit has Resulted in Compensation Increases for Thousands of Farmworkers
A lawsuit to halt a Trump-era wage freeze will result in salary hikes for guest agricultural workers in 2022. President Trump recommended the freeze to assist farmers who lost money and had their property fallow during the federal shutdown in 2020. However, farmworker groups filed a lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture to prevent the freeze from going into force.
Thousands of California foreign farmworkers and US farmworkers will enjoy pay rises in 2022, owing to a lawsuit filed by supporters to end a Trump-era wage freeze.
The salary rise is based on the USDA’s annual agricultural labor survey, which was issued on November 24. The poll and its conclusions are used to calculate the hourly wage for temporary, seasonal agricultural laborers employed via the H-2A program.
The salary rise was threatened by a wage freeze imposed by former President Donald Trump to assist farmers, many of whom lost profit and left fallow their land due to the shutdowns in early 2020. Farmworker activists sued the USDA over the proposed wage freeze and obtained an injunction to block the order.
What US State Has the Most Migrant Agricultural Workers?
In a word, California. California is home to between one-third and one-half of all farmworkers in the United States, or 500,000 to 800,000 farmworkers. Approximately 75% of farmworkers in California are illegal, including 83 percent in Santa Cruz County.
California produces approximately 350 commodities, including one-third of the country’s vegetables and almost two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. For example, California has 90% of the strawberries cultivated in the United States.
California is home to between one-third and one-half of all farmworkers in the United States, or 500,000 to 800,000 farmworkers. Nearly 75% of farmworkers in California are illegal, including 83 percent in Santa Cruz County. Women make up around one-third of the population, and they range in age from their teens to their 60s. In addition, 400,000 youngsters are working in the United States.
Can Foreign Agricultural Workers Get US Green Cards?
The Immigration Law Guide for Great Employees motivates them to transition from temporary to permanent employment. A worker who has stayed in the same company for years and knows anything about immigration may ask that the farmer sponsor them for a Green Card. Farmers should carefully evaluate this suggestion. If the employee receives a negative response, they may search for another H-2A employer who will sponsor them.
However, we can assist with the move from temporary to permanent. For example, we have helped farmers and ranchers convert H-2A workers into full-time permanent employees. An employment-based Green Card would result from an employee’s shift from temporary nonimmigrant status with an H-2A status to lawful permanent residency.
This process is also covered in the Immigration Resource Guide. It usually consists of three phases that last between 14 months and two years. The H-2A employee can keep on working for the sponsoring farmer during the procedure if the timing is suitable.
The farmer is required by government rules to cover the costs of this process. A Green Card application is not inexpensive. It involves lawyer expenses, USCIS filing fees, and mandatory advertising. However, considering the annual expense of the H-2A visa, many farmers believe that the payback time is enough.
Overview of Employer Contractual Obligations to the Foreign Agricultural Workers
Recruitment of US WorkersThe Department of Labor requires the employers to obtain a certificate demonstrating that there are not enough US workers qualified and available to perform the work associated with the petition and that the foreign worker’s employment will not adversely affect similarly employed US workers. Employers are expected to participate in positive recruiting of US workers adding to contacting specific previous US employees and coordinating recruitment operations with the relevant State Workforce Agency. H-2A businesses must hire eligible, qualified US workers who seek the job opportunity until half of the work contract duration has gone. In addition, employers must provide US workers with terms and circumstances that are no less advantageous than those supplied to H-2A workers.
Termination of WorkersEmployers are not permitted to hire H-2A employees if they lay off US workers within 60 days from the date of need, except if the laid-off US workers were given and declined the same employment prospects for which the H-2A workers were pursued. Layoffs of US workers in equivalent jobs are permitted only if all H-2A workers are laid off first. Employers may only refuse qualified US workers for legal, job-related grounds. Employers are obliged to inform the Department of Labor (DOL). In addition, in the case of a foreign H-2A worker, employers must notify the Department of Homeland Security not more than two working days after a worker is dismissed or voluntarily abandons the post to avoid continued responsibility for salaries and benefits.
Rates of PayAll covered agriculture workers must be paid at least the highest of the following relevant wage rates in force at the time work is executed:
- The negative impact of wage rates (AEWR)
- The current prevailing wage
- The collective bargaining rate that has been agreed upon
- The federal or state legal minimum wage
Written DisclosureAn employer must provide to each worker a copy of the employment contract, in a language understood by the worker, no later than the time at which the worker applies for an H-2A visa and no later than the first (1st) day of work if the worker is employed in a related occupation. In the absence of a separate word document and contract, the employer must deliver a copy of the work order filed to and authorized by DOL to each employee. The following items must be included in the labor contract:
- The start and end dates of the work contract and the location(s) of the work
- Any and all-important job requirements, including payment for incurred transportation expenses, accommodation and food to be given (and related charges), and particular days workers are not needed to work
- The number of hours per day and days per week that each employee will be expected to work
- The crop(s) to be worked and the jobs to be done
- The rate(s) that apply to each crop/job
- All necessary tools, resources, and equipment will be given free of charge.
- Workers’ compensation insurance will be supplied for free.
- Any deductions that are not otherwise mandated by law. All deductions must be justified. Any deduction that is not specifically stated is not permitted.
Guarantees to All WorkersThe “three-fourths guarantee” requires H-2A companies to guarantee that each covered worker will be employed for hours equivalent to at least 75% of the working days in the contract term. For instance, if a work contract is for ten weeks and the average workweek is six days a week, eight hours a day, the worker must be assured employment for at least 360 hours (e.g., 10 weeks x 48 hours/week = 480 hours x 75% = 360). Suppose the employer does not provide enough workdays to H-2A or comparable employees throughout the work contract to fulfill the three-fourths promise. In that case, the company must pay these employees the amount they would have received had they worked for the guaranteed number of workdays. Wages for the 75 percent guaranteed period will be determined at no less than the rate specified in the work contract.
HousingEmployers must give free accommodation to H-2A employees and workers in similar occupations who cannot return to their house within the same day. However, if the company chooses to provide rental (public) housing for such employees, the employer must pay all housing-related expenses directly to the housing management. Furthermore, employers must either offer three meals every day to each covered worker at no more than a DOL-specified cost or provide free and handy cooking and kitchen equipment so workers can make their meals. Employer-provided or secured accommodation must meet all applicable health and safety criteria.
TransportationEmployees residing in employer-provided housing must receive complimentary transportation to and from their worksite every day. Transportation provided by employers must comply with all applicable safety regulations, be appropriately insured, and be staffed by licensed drivers.
Inbound & Outbound ExpensesIf not already prepaid or otherwise supplied, the employer must compensate workers for adequate inbound transportation and subsistence expenses once the worker has completed half of the work contract duration. It is important to note that the FLSA applies independently of H-2A and bans covered employees from incurring expenditures that are substantially for the advantage of the employer if such expenses reduce the employee’s pay under the FLSA minimum wage. After the employment contract is over, the employer must either supply or pay for the covered worker’s return transportation and daily sustenance.
Records RequiredThe employer’s responsibility is to keep accurate records of the number of hours of work offered each day to the employee and the actual hours worked by the employee. Workers should be given a statement indicating the hours offered and the hours worked, the hourly rate and piece rate of pay, and if piece rates are used, the number of units produced each day, on or before every payday (at least twice monthly). In addition to the total earnings for the pay period, the hours and earnings statement must include all deductions from the wages.
Additional Assurances and ObligationsEmployers must follow all applicable regulations and rules, including the restriction on seizing or taking employees’ passports or other immigration papers. Furthermore, businesses shall not seek or accept payment from workers for anything linked to getting the H-2A labor certification, such as attorney or agent fees, application fees, or recruitment charges. Employers must also ensure no strike or lockout at the worksite throughout the H-2A certification process. Employers cannot discriminate against or discharge individuals who file a complaint or consult a lawyer.
Can Agricultural Workers Bring Their Family to the US?Yes! Workers’ spouses and minor children under 21 must apply for an H-4 Visa. This visa does not permit the owner to work. They may, nevertheless, request to modify their visa status if they find work.
Taxing for Agricultural Workers in the USH-2A employees are exempt from paying Social Security and Medicare taxes on their earnings. Furthermore, the employer is not compelled to pay these taxes on behalf of the employee. When employees file their income tax returns for the year, they may owe federal income tax to the United States. Employers may withhold federal income tax if both the employee and the employer agree. The worker must finish and deliver Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to the employer for the employer to withhold taxes from the worker’s compensation. It should be noted that certain states permit employers to withhold the employee’s share of workers’ compensation.
E-VerifyE-Verify is a government program that allows participating companies to verify their workers’ eligibility to work in the US. E-Verify is an entirely optional program. These sorts of employers, however, may be obliged to use the program:
- Those having government contracts or subcontracts that have an E-Verify requirement in the Federal Acquisition Regulation
- Those who live in states or locations where E-Verify is required by law.
- Those who are forced to utilize E-Verify due to a federal ruling