H-2A program plagued by abuses to foreign and domestic workers
The federal program meant to provide a legal workforce for farmers to harvest crops in the absence of domestic labor has grown rife with abuse and lacks needed protections for the thousands of guest workers laboring to put food on America’s tables, according to a new report released today.
The report by Farmworker Justice offers an in-depth look at the violations and abuses of the federal H-2A agricultural guest worker program, exposing the fundamental flaws of guest worker models and revealing the program’s effect of keeping wages low in the U.S. for both foreign and domestic workers.
North Carolina has more H-2A guest workers than any other state. For North Carolina, which boasts an agricultural industry worth over $2.8 billion, the Department of labor certified 9, 387 guest workers, or 95 percent of the applicants.
In “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers,” a report based on interviews with current and former H-2A workers, Farmworker Justice documents the human toll of a system meant to provide a legal and dependable workforce for American farmers.
“This investigation corroborates the view that the guestworker model and the H-2A program should not be the solution to ensuring a sustainable labor force for American agriculture,” said Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein. “Stronger protections and enforcement in the H-2A guestworker program are needed but cannot solve the labor abuses that inevitably arise. America is a nation of immigrants, not a nation of guestworkers.”
The report offers multiple short-term and long-term solutions to eliminate abuses in the H-2A program and ensure a sustainable labor force for American agriculture including:
· * Congress should pass the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act (AgJOBS).
· * The Department of Labor should increase oversight and enforcement of worker protections in the H-2A program.
· * The H-2A visa program should be changed to provide workers with the freedom to change employers.
· * H-2A workers should be able to earn permanent legal immigration status in order to be able to protect their rights and improve their conditions.
Even during a period of high unemployment and economic recession in the United States, the U.S. Department of Labor has expanded approval of H-2A visas for entering farmworkers by 80 percent from 2005 to 2009. The five states with the most guest workers (North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky and Florida) account for 37 percent of guest worker certification nation-wide. Guest workers make up roughly 10 percent of the agricultural labor force in the United States, between 50 – 70 percent of which is composed of undocumented workers.
For North Carolina, which boasts an agricultural industry worth over $2.8 billion, the Department of labor certified 9, 387 guest workers, or 95 percent of the applicants.
Guest workers “non-immigrant” status deprives them of bargaining power with their employer, which leads employers to prefer guest workers over domestic workers and keeps wages low for both. Recruitment abuses in the program have lead to cases of debt peonage, human trafficking, forced labor and wage theft.
# # #
Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety and access to justice.
Contact: Jessica Felix-Romero, (571) 275-1249.