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Agricultural Work

The H-2A nonimmigrant visa program allows non-U.S. citizens to work in the U.S. in temporary or seasonal agricultural jobs. Employers must apply for permission from the U.S. government to hire foreign individuals as H-2A nonimmigrants. After the approved work period ends, the worker must leave the United States. An H-2A visa only permits temporary agricultural work for a specific employer for a fixed period, less than one year. There is no annual limit of H-2A visas available each fiscal year. In 2022, the U.S. Department of State issued 298,336 H-2A visas, quadruple the number issued ten years ago (74,192 in 2013).


The H-2A program includes many worker protections to ensure fair and safe conditions,

affecting contracts, wages, housing, and transportation, though those rules and the required oversight are often criticized as inadequate to ensure worker protection. Employers must offer H-2A workers a Department of Labor (DOL) set wage rate and payment must be made at least every two weeks. Employers must also provide safe and clean housing for H-2A workers at no cost. H-2A workers are entitled to inbound and outbound transportation costs between their homes and the worksite. Before H-2A workers arrive in the United States, employers must provide a job-specific contract detailing the terms and conditions of employment, written in a language the worker understands. This contract must describe job duties, wages, work hours, and other relevant provisions.

Stated Purpose

The H-2A nonimmigrant visa program allows non-U.S. citizens to work in the U.S. in temporary or seasonal agricultural jobs when no U.S. workers are available and as long as the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers are not adversely affected by the employment of foreign workers.

Typical H2-A Occupations
Crop workers
Common H-2A jobs include tending to tobacco; pruning and picking fruit; planting and harvesting vegetable row crops; and working in nurseries and greenhouses.
H-2A workers are also contracted to work on cattle ranches, and herding sheep.
H-2A workers often rely on labor contractors or recruiters to connect them with job opportunities in the United States. It is far too common that these contractors and recruiters   charge workers illegal recruitment fees. These fees can leave workers in debt and vulnerable to exploitation. Additionally, many H-2A workers have claimed that employers pay less than promised wages, change the agreed-upon terms and conditions of employment, and require them to work in unsafe conditions. Lack of effective oversight, limited enforcement of program rules and general labor law, and often unavailable access to legal remedies increase the vulnerability of H-2A workers. Addressing these flaws in the H-2A program needs a comprehensive approach that enhances enforcement, improves oversight, eliminates recruitment fees, and provides access to legal remedies when there is abuse.
Congress should create a uniform system for reporting data that the federal government already collects on temporary visa programs and require that information be made publicly available. This information would give the government and advocates the data it needs to comprehensively analyze visa programs like the H-2A visa for systemic abuse and identify potential victims of trafficking and forced labor. Congress should authorize the Department of Labor (DOL) to require H-2A employers to disclose all arrangements with and identities of H-2A Labor Contractors (H-2ALCs) and foreign labor recruiters and disclose all contracting and recruiting in foreign countries, including by sub-contractors and sub-agents. DOL should maintain and publish a list of all registered agents and their relationships.
Fair Recruitment:
The H-2A program requires increased regulation of the recruitment of H-2A workers to protect against fraud, discrimination, and human trafficking. Congress should make H-2A employers jointly liable for their agents engaged in foreign labor recruitment.
Effective Oversight:
Congress should allocate more funds to the DOL, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce laws and regulations governing the H-2A program. Those agencies should have dedicated, highly trained staff to pursue investigations and inspections into potential exploitation and violations. There should be enough investigators to conduct a statistically significant sample of random inspections at H-2A worksites to detect and ultimately dissuade noncompliance by H-2A employers.
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