The H-2A Program

The H-2A program brings in about 30,000 workers a year – a little over 1% of those who work on farms each year. It’s a hotly contested program even though it’s barely a drop in the bucket when compared to the estimated 1.5 million undocumented workers (and the million or more legal residents) that toil in fields and packinghouses throughout rural America. But many in farming see a rapid, expanded H-2A stripped of worker protections as a cure-all for low-wage employees.

We disagree. Those who want to expand it want to cheapen it. They want to do away with rules that require employers to show local workers are unavailable — rules that require growers to incur costs of transportation, housing and higher wages to keep from undercutting local workers.

The rules rarely work that way. “Bad apple” employers turn local, capable workers away so they can import more easily exploitable guestworkers. Promised hours and wages fail to materialize. Tied to a single employer, complaints may result in a quick return home. To make a bad program worse, no matter how long one toils in the H-2 program one never earns the right to become a permanent immigrant.