U.S. agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of U.S. domestic workers can fill seasonal farm jobs with temporary foreign workers through the H-2A visa program. The Department of Labor certified around 317,000 temporary jobs in fiscal year (FY) 2021 under the H-2A visa program, more than six times the number certified in 2005. Only about 80% of the certified jobs in 2021 resulted in the issuance of a visa.
The program has grown partly in response to current U.S. domestic workers finding jobs outside of U.S. agriculture and a drop in newly arrived immigrants who seek U.S. farm jobs. The H-2A program continued to expand in FY 2020 despite the jump in U.S. unemployment caused by lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six States accounted for about half of the H-2A jobs filled in 2021 certified: Florida, Georgia, Washington, California, North Carolina, and Louisiana. Nationally, the average H-2A contract in FY 2020 offered 24 weeks of employment and 39.3 hours per week at an average hourly wage of $13.
Farm advocacy groups have argued the H-2A program needs reform, especially its adverse effect wage rate (AEWR), which sets the hourly wage for program workers. It is set to rise significantly in 2023. Florida’s new AEWR is projected to climb by nearly 15.5% to $14.33, up from $12.41 just a year ago.