Clearing the Air: There are multiple misconceptions about the H-2A worker program

The H-2A visa worker program gets a lot of attention in the U.S. ag industry but the Washington Policy Center says there is often confusion on how it operates.

Ag Director Pam Lewison says operations have to advertise the help they need around two months before hiring, which is to ensure anyone in the local area has a shot at the job first. Only then can farms apply for H-2A workers, and that all comes with fine print attached.

“For 50% of that contract, so however long they’re here. If they are here for 6 months, for 3 months after your H-2A workers arrive, you have to give preference to local hires. So, if you have 50 H-2A workers, and 50 people from town show up at some point during that first three months, you must sit your H-2A workers out and hire the local 50 people while still paying the 50 H-2A workers.”

Lewison says wages are always a hot issue when talking about H-2A workers and there is concern the program brings them down. She says the H-2A program is intended to be cost-prohibitive on purpose due to the adverse effect wage rate, which has doubled over the last two decades.