National H-2A Workforce Sets New Record

Brian German Agri-Business, Labor and Immigration

A new record has been set as it pertains to the size of the H-2A workforce employed in agricultural production.  According to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of H-2A guest workers hit 242,762 this year, an increase of more than 21 percent from 2017.  It marks the seventh straight year of growth in the number of H-2A workers in the U.S.  The continued growth of using foreign guest workers indicates that labor concerns are continuing to be an issue in agriculture.

H-2A WorkforceCalifornia has individually increased the size of the overall H-2A workforce, growing by just over 20 percent in 2018.  The state’s farmers have traditionally had mixed feelings about the H-2A program.  A California Farm Bureau Federation labor survey from 2017 indicated that only three percent of respondents reported using H-2A workers.  The most frequently mentioned concern regarding the use of H-2A employees is the high cost associated with the program.

Despite reservations from growers about using the H-2A program, California is the fifth largest state in terms of H-2A workers. Figures indicate there were 18,908 H-2A employees working in agriculture in 2018.  For the first time, Georgia had the most H-2A workers employed in the agricultural sector with 32,364.  Georgia, Florida, Washington, North Carolina, and California collectively account for more than half of all H-2A workers employed in agriculture in the U.S.

Some growers in California have been weighing their options in recent years amidst minimum wage increases, changing overtime rules and a continually volatile labor pool.  Working with a labor contractor has become more attractive for farmers growing particularly labor-intensive crops, or whose operations are located in areas where skilled labor is exceptionally difficult to acquire.  Labor contractors also appear to be the preferred method of employment for H-2A workers on a national level, as the top three employers are either labor contractors or growers’ associations.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West