H2-A visas granted and positions certified have grown rapidly since 2005

This line chart shows the H2-A Temporary Agricultural Program positions certified and visas granted for fiscal years 1997–2017.

Rising farm wages and recent reports from farmers point to a tightening farm labor market in the United States. Another sign of labor scarcity has been the increased use of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program, which provides a mechanism for growers to bring in nonimmigrant foreign workers on a temporary or seasonal basis. This increase is noteworthy in light of the costs associated with the program: State-level minimum wages for H-2A workers are set at the prevailing average farm wage as determined by the Farm Labor Survey, and growers must provide housing, as well as pay application, visa, and transportation costs. In addition, growers have long complained about the program’s bureaucratic complexity, and some have charged that its administrative processes often move too slowly for workers to arrive on time. Despite these concerns, the H-2A program has expanded rapidly in recent years, from about 48,300 positions certified in fiscal year (FY) 2005 to 200,000 in FY 2017. Data from the first three quarters of FY 2018 indicate that certifications were up 21 percent over the first three quarters of FY 2017. The number of H-2A visas granted is less than the number of H-2A positions certified because some visa recipients work in multiple H-2A positions, and some certified positions go unfilled. This chart appears in the ERS report, Farm Labor Markets in the United States and Mexico Pose Challenges for U.S. Agriculture, released in November 2018.

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