Back to the Future? H-2A Program Growth

Taylor Hillman Labor and Immigration

H-2A Program
The H-2A program has grown exponentially over the last seven years, especially in California, showing history repeating itself in the agriculture labor sector.

The H-2A program allows employers to hire non-immigrant foreign workers for seasonal agricultural labor. The program provides temporary visas to workers and requires the employer to provide approved housing among other specifications. University of California Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics, Phillip Martin, said the program has grown substantially in the last several years. “The H-2A program has doubled in size in the United States over the last seven years and tripled in size in California,” Martin said.

Martin spoke about labor challenges at the Sustainable Ag Expo in San Luis Obispo and compared the recent surge in H-2A worker popularity to a program from the past.

In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, there was a Bracero program where Mexican workers would live on the farms they worked. When there was no longer a need for their services, the workers returned to Mexico. Martin said we could be going back to the future. “The past was hiring legal guest workers that were housed on the farms that they work, they stayed in the United States for six, eight, 10¬†months and then they left,” Martin said. “Going back to the future would be an H-2A program where people come in, live on the farms they work and then go back to their countries.”

So why the growth in the last seven years? Martin said the amount of Mexican workers in their 20s has decreased significantly. The National Center for Farmworker Health reports that the median age of a migrant farm worker was 36 in 2012. That number is rising and Martin said the reduction of newcomers to the United States is a major reason. “A newcomer is someone who has been in the U.S. for less than a year. In 2000, it was almost 25 percent in California. Now it’s less than 2 percent,” Martin said. “So the new people coming into the farm work force are H-2A guest workers.”