The Role Of H-2A Workers And Farm Labor Contractors In US Agriculture – Work Visas


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The H-2A program plays a significant role in supporting the
agricultural industry in the United States, including North
Carolina. The program is instrumental because domestic labor often
falls short in meeting the demands for labor-intensive crops.
Facilitating this program, in part, are farm labor contractors
(FLCs), who help bring H-2A workers to the United States,
particularly to farms in North Carolina and others states in the
southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The H-2A program operates under
strict regulations enforced by the US Department of Labor and other
government agencies. These regulations change periodically,
creating a complex environment that farmers and FLCs must navigate
as they carry out their essential work.

I was recently quoted in an article in The
Raleigh News & Observer
that discusses the essential
nature of migrant workers’ labor for North Carolina
farmer
s. It is important to note that instances of
poor treatment of H-2A workers by FLCs are relatively rare. FLCs
are in the business of supplying labor for agriculture, and if they
engage in abusive practices, fail to pay workers, or violate the
law, they risk their reputation and ability to attract workers as
negative feedback spreads quickly in the industry. Moreover, FLCs
are subject to both civil and criminal penalties for violating
labor laws, including wage and hour regulations. In fact, a civil
lawsuit alleging these violations or “human trafficking”
can have devastating financial consequences for FLCs and farmers,
many of whom may also face legal action for alleged violations
connected to FLCs.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in
lawsuits alleging “human trafficking.” This rise appears
to be linked, at least in part, to the growing number of visa
applications based on claims of being a victim of trafficking or
other criminal activities. These visas, known as “T” or
“U” visas, provide individuals with the opportunity to
remain in the US, obtain work authorization, and apply for lawful
permanent resident status. While these visas serve an essential
purpose, they may have also contributed to the increasing number of
“human trafficking” claims in civil lawsuits.

Another challenge faced in the H-2A program is the trend of H-2A
workers arriving in the US, working briefly to collect a paycheck
or two plus travel expense reimbursement, and then disappearing.
This poses multiple issues, as farmers and FLCs invest a
substantial amount upfront to bring in these workers with the
expectation that they will stay for the entire agricultural season.
Losing workers within the first few weeks of the season is highly
detrimental to those trying to cultivate crops or raise livestock.
Additionally, H-2A workers are required to return to their home
country when their visa expires or when they leave their
employment. Those who depart shortly after arriving in the US often
do not comply with this legal requirement.

In conclusion, the issue of labor in the agricultural sector,
particularly regarding the H-2A program, is undoubtedly complex.
Nonetheless, farm labor contractors continue to provide a valuable
service to North Carolina’s agricultural community. Their role
in facilitating the program helps sustain the industry, ensuring
that it meets the demands of labor-intensive crop harvesting and
benefits the broader agricultural community in the state.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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