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H-2A Program Continues to Expand

September 9, 2019

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.

The growth in the H-2A program may be slowing. The increase in third quarter H-2A applications over the year before was the slowest in five years.

The H-2A program allows US farm employers to request certification from DOL to have foreign workers admitted “temporarily to the United States to perform agricultural labor…of a temporary or seasonal nature” if (1) “there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services involved in the employer petition and (2) the employment of the alien in such labor or services will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed.”

Employers attach the DOL certification of their need for H-2A workers to a petition they send to USCIS, which reviews and forwards its approval to DOS consulates abroad, where the workers who are recruited by or for the employer are issued H-2A visas. Employers are responsible for the cost of recruiting workers, getting them to US consulates for their visas, transporting them to the US, and housing them at the workplace and providing them with food or cooking facilities. Employers are also responsible for transporting workers home when they are fired or at the end of their contracts, and reporting absconding workers.

There is no limit to the number of farm jobs that can be certified to be filled by H-2A workers. The number of jobs certified rose from less than 50,000 jobs in FY05 to almost 243,000 in FY18.

During the first three quarters of FY19, the top five states where jobs were certified were GA, WA, FL, CA, and NC; these five states accounted for 53 percent of all H-2A jobs certified. The top five employers were the NCGA, Fresh Harvest, WAFLA, Zirkle Fruit, and R&R Harvesting; these five employers accounted for 11 percent of all certifications.

The top three jobs certified were general farm workers, 12 percent of certifications, berries, 10 percent, and tobacco, seven percent; these three commodities accounted for 29 percent of all jobs that were certified.

The top 5 states accounted for 53 percent of H-2A jobs certified; the top 5 employers accounted for 11 percent of jobs certified, and the top 3 commodities 29 percent of jobs certified

The growth in H-2A applications to DOL slowed in the 3rd quarter of 2018 compared to earlier years