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H-2A program continues to Expand

April 25, 2018

DOL certified 112,200 farm jobs to be filled in the first half of FY18, up 15 percent from 96,800 in the first half of FY17. Florida and Georgia accounted for a quarter of first half certifications, followed by Washington and California with 20 percent. Berries was the largest single crop requesting H-2A workers, accounting for 11 percent of job certifications

There is no cap on the number of H-2A workers who can be admitted to the US. DOL certified over 200,000 jobs to be filled with H-2A guest workers in FY17. If the H-2A program expands by 15 percent in FY18, there will be 230,000 farm jobs certified

The H-2A program has since 1987 (the program was called H-2 between 1952 and 1987) allowed farmers anticipating too few farm workers to apply to DOL for certification to employ guest workers. DOL certification involves ensuring that there are not US workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to fill the jobs that farmers want to fill with guest workers, and that the presence of the H-2A workers will not adversely affect similar US workers

Between the 1950s and the 1990s, most H-2A workers were Jamaicans who cut sugar cane in Florida and picked apples along the eastern seaboard. Just before the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was enacted, DOL certified 20,700 farm jobs to be filled with then H-2 workers in FY85, including 10,000 to cut sugar cane just south of Lake Okeechobee. The mechanization of the sugar cane harvest in the early 1990s and the upsurge in illegal immigration after IRCA reduced H-2Acertifications to 15,100 in FY95, including 4,100 in tobacco

In FY17, when over 200,000 jobs were certified, almost 22,000 were in berries, followed by 12,700 in apples and 12,500 in tobacco. H-2A workers continue to pick apples in New York and other northeastern states, but most H-2A apple pickers are employed in WA, which produces two-thirds of US apples

In 2016, average employment covered by unemployment insurance on US crop farms (NAICS 111) was 560,000, and average employment in crop support services (1151) that bring workers to farms was 334,000, making average UI-covered employment in crop agriculture 891,000. UI covers all workers, including H-2A workers, in states such as California, but does not cover workers on smaller farms and H-2A workers in some states. If the UI data cover 85 percent of crop workers, there are an average one million workers employed on US crop farms

Most H-2A workers are in the US less than the usual 10-month maximum stay. The best estimate is that the average H-2A worker is in the US six months, so that 230,000 jobs certified in FY 18 would mean that 115,000 or almost 12 percent of average employment in US crop agriculture was performed by H-2A workers

UI-Covered Crop and Crop Support Employment, 2016

H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Certification Program - Selected Statistics, FY 2018 YTD

Applications Received 1
FYTD Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 % Change FY 2017
7,483 2,756 4,727     15.4%
1 "Applications Received" is derived from data not publicly discolsed.


Applications Processed
Determination FYTD Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Total Determinations 6,674 1,731 4,943    
- Certified 6,482 1,626 4,856    
- Denied 74 39 35    
- Withdrawn 118 66 52    
Positions Requsted 115,142 33,609 81,533    
Positions Certified 112,214 31,866 80,348    
Processed Timely 2 92.1% 96.7% 90.2%    
2 Percent of complete H-2A applications resolved 30 days before the start date of need. A complete H-2A application is defined as one containing all the documentation (e.g. housing inspection report, workers' compensation, recruitment report) necessary for the OFLC Certifying Officer to issue a final determination 30 days before the start date of need.


Selected Statistics by Worker Positions Certified
Review of Positions Certified FY 2018 YTD (% of total certified FY 2018 YTD)
Top 10 States Florida 17,493 15.6%
Georgia 16,004 14.3%
Washington 10,751 9.6%
California 10,092 9.0%
North Carolina 7,952 7.1%
Arizona 5,496 4.9%
Louisiana 5,014 4.5%
South Carolina 3,410 3.0%
Idaho 2,811 2.5%
Texas 2,461 2.2%
Top 10 Employers North Carolina Growers Association 4,441 4.0%
Washington Farm Labor Association 2,651 2.4%
Fresh Harvest, Inc. 2,453 2.2%
Elkhorn Packaging Co., LLC 2,053 1.8%
Zirkle Fruit Company 1,863 1.7%
Foothill Packaging, Inc 1,624 1.4%
Farm Op, Inc. 957 0.9%
Virginia Agricultural Growers Association 925 0.8%
A. Oseguera Company, Inc. 891 0.8%
Hamilton Growser, Inc 833 0.7%
Top 10 Crops/Occupations Berries 3 12,418 11.1%
General Farm Workers 9,802 8.7%
Lettuce 4 7,131 6.4%
Nursery and Greenhouse Workers 6,119 5.5%
Tobacco 5 8,859 5.2%
Agricultural Equipment Operators 6 4,530 4.0%
Fruits and Vegetables 4,368 3.9%
Onions 7 4,098 3.7%
Apples 8 3,951 3.5%
Cherries 9 3,426 3.1%
3 Berries Category includes listed Primary Crops of Berries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cranberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries.
4 Lettuce Category includes listed Primary Crops of Iceberg, Lettuce, and Romaine.
5 Tobacco Category includes listed Primary Crops of Burley as well as Cutting, Blue-Cured, Setting, and Stripping Tobacco.
6 Agricultural Equipment Operators Category includes Primary Crops of Agricultural Equipment Operators, Custom Combine and Logging.
7 Onions Category includes listed Primary Crops of Onions, Sweet Onions, and Vidalia Onions.
8 Apples Category includes Primary Crop of Apple Drops.
9 Cherries Category includes listed Primary Crops of Cherries, Sweet Cherries, and Yello Cherries.

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