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Rural Migration Blog

September 2019

USDA’s Agricultural or Farm Labor Survey

USDA’s Agricultural or Farm Labor Survey collects data on earnings and hours worked of various types of farm workers from a sample of about 6,000 US farm employers for the week that includes the 12th of the month for January, April, July, and October (about half of the 12,000 farms contacted provide data). Employers report total wages paid and the number of hours worked for directly hired workers, including paid family members, and separate these hired workers into workers who will be employed on the farm for more than 150 days and workers who will be employed less than 150 days.

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COA Farm Labor Expenditures 2017

The Census of Agriculture collects data from farm employers on their expenditures for (1) directly hired labor, including employer payroll taxes and the cost of any employer-provided benefits, and (2) contract labor expenses, which are wages paid as well as contractor payroll taxes, work-related benefits, and other contractor expenses and profits.

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The H-2A Program and AEWRs: FLS and OES

The H-2A program allows farmers who satisfy US recruitment, housing, and wage obligations to employ guest workers in seasonal jobs, generally up to 10 months. The wage obligation is to offer and pay US and H-2A workers the higher of the federal or state minimum wage, the prevailing wage for the commodity and area, the collectively bargained wage, or the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR).

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The H-2A Program and AEWRs

The H-2A program allows farmers to recruit and employ foreign workers if there are not sufficient US workers who are “able, willing, and qualified” to fill their seasonal farm jobs, and if the presence of H-2A foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of US farm workers.

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H-2A Program Continues to Expand

The H-2A program continues to expand. Over 206,000 farm jobs were certified to be filled with H-2A workers during the first three quarters of FY19, up seven percent from 193,000 in FY18. Most jobs are certified between January and June, two thirds of the 243,000 in FY18. The US Department of Labor (DOL) certified 171,000 H-2A jobs between January and June 2019, which suggests that total certifications for FY19 could top 255,000.

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