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July 2019, Volume 25, Number 3
The House Appropriations Committee in June 2019 approved an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill that would allow farm employers to hire H-2A guest workers in year-round jobs. Most H-2A workers are currently limited to 10 months in the US. Dairy farmers have been requesting the change so that they can hire H-2A workers.
In May 2018, the Departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Labor and State announced plans to modernize the H-2A program. Regulations are being developed to make changes to the H-2A program. USDA in April 2019 launched a website to help farmers obtain certification to employ H-2A workers.
Strawberry acreage increased sharply in Santa Maria, a city of 110,000 in northern Santa Barbara county that is about three-fourths Hispanic and has long produced vegetables and wine. More strawberries have increased the need for farm workers, which has led to more H-2A workers.
Farm employers must provide H-2A workers, but not local US workers, with free housing that has been inspected by state and sometimes local authorities. Many employers convert low-end hotels and motels into H-2A worker housing, taking out hotel beds and furniture and installing bunk beds. Others buy or lease apartment buildings or single family homes.
Single family homes in residential areas with 10 or more H-2A workers have aroused opposition in Santa Maria and other farm worker areas. Farmers are willing to pay more to rent a single family home, $2,000 a month, while local renters may want to pay only $1,500.
Betteravia Farms (Bonipak), a vegetable producer, converted an Econ Lodge into housing for H-2A workers in 2019, prompting calls for H-2A workers to be moved outside the city. The Laz-E-Daze Retirement Center was converted to H-2A housing and renamed Pasasodo del Sol.
Media reports say that many Mexican H-2A workers pay to get their jobs, but applicants for H-2A visas do not tell DOS consular officials that they paid fees to avoid being denied H-2A visas. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which represents some of the H-2A workers employed by members of NCGA, believes that 60 percent of H-2A workers pay something to get US jobs, typically $1,000 to $2,000.
Mexican researchers say that many workers pay recruiters but do not obtain contracts for US jobs, emphasizing that there may be several middlemen between the US job offer and workers in remote villages. Some recruiters offer non-existent jobs via Facebook, collect fees from workers and disappear. The rural Mexicans who want to work in US agriculture often believe oral promises that may be false.
CSI Visa Processing is one of the largest recruiters of H-2A workers, recruiting for both the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) and the Washington Farm Labor Association (WAFLA).
H-2B. The number of H-2B visas for workers coming to the US to fill seasonal nonfarm jobs that last up to 10 months is capped at 66,000 per year, divided into spring and fall tranches of 33,000 each. When 33,000 H-2B visas became available January 1, 2019, DOL computers crashed as employers requested over 100,000 H-2B visas. About three-fourths of H-2B visas go to Mexicans, most of whom are employed in landscaping and gardening.
DHS and DOL in April 2019 announced that 30,000 additional H-2B visas would be available in FY19 for foreigners who previously held H-2B visas. In FY17 and FY18, 15,000 extra H-2B visas were made available.
Glen Ellison, a landscape contractor in the Vail Valley of Colorado, was profiled in June 2019 after failing to win visas for the 35 H-2B workers he relied on. Ellison says that Americans see work as going to a fitness center, not "putting calluses on your fingers and doing a hard day's worth of work, not just today but tomorrow and next week and next month. But the people down in Mexico, they'd love it, and it works for them."