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H-2A Visas Enable Employers To Avoid Wage Competition

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A recent NPR article shows the growing trend of agricultural employers turning to H-2A foreign visa workers in an effort to avoid negotiating wages with American workers. This arrangement saves employers money and gives them complete control of the workers.

A H-2A visa is specifically used to import agricultural workers into the U.S. on a temporary basis, up to 8 months. There is an unlimited amount of H-2A visas that employers can receive. The employer must provide housing as well as a wage set by the Dept. of Labor, but the worker is only allowed to work for that employer.

While the H-2A visa is not supposed to be granted until the Dept. of Labor certifies that “employment of H-2A aliens will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers,” many employers say they hire H-2A workers because it is easier and cheaper than offering competitive wages to American workers.

The NPR article interviewed one employer, Justin Sorrells, that said his family decided to move to H-2A foreign workers after they lost a crew to a competing farm who offered the workers higher wages.

“We have been 100 percent H-2A since that day,” Sorrells says. “We were the first company in the state of Florida to utilize H-2A labor in citrus.”

Many farms followed Sorrells’ example. Around 140,000 farm jobs were filled by H-2A workers in 2015, that is twice as many compared to four years ago.

According to Philip Martin, an economist at the University of California, the trend of replacing American workers with H-2A workers will continue to grow. Martin has spent most of his professional life studying the situation of farmworkers and he believes that they already make up about 10% of the agricultural workforce and could reach 20%even though employers are expected to hire U.S. workers first.

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