Farm Labor Contractors Help Make H-2A Affordable

Randall Weiseman Labor and Immigration

By Jaci Schreckengost

With the fear of a domestic labor shortage of agricultural workers in the United States, many growers are turning to H-2A for a guaranteed labor supply.

H-2A is a guest-worker program that brings employees from other countries to agricultural worksites in the United States. The downside of this program, however, is the cost.

Fritz Roka, associate professor of agriculture economics at the University of Florida at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, says farm labor contractors (FLCs) are able to help bring that cost down.

Before the H-2A workers come to the United States, Roka says growers can expect to spend around $2,000 per employee on recruitment costs, obtaining a visa and transportation to the United States.

FLCs have contracts with different growers for different crops, so once one harvesting season is over, the employees can move on to picking the next crop. Roka specifies these growers would not actually be participating in the H-2A program. Instead, the growers have contracts with the FLCs. The FLCs are the ones participating in the program.

“So it becomes a little more economically feasible for a blueberry grower,” Roka says.  The issues with blueberry growers directly participating in the H-2A program is the cost and the short length of the harvesting time for blueberries.

By using FLCs, Roka points out that employees can be transferred from job to job, saving on certain costs in the H-2A program, such as recruitment of the employees, visa costs and transportation to the United States. This process of employees transferring from job to job can continue for up to three years, which is the duration of the visa, Roka says.

H-2A and labor concerns were recently discussed by many growers at a farm bill listening session held in Gainesville, Florida, on June 24. The full session is available here.

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