Growers know that in good times or bad, they’ve only got one payday per year. Making it count means having the right number of workers, on time, for seasonal labor.
In the current economic climate, growers really have only three options (and only two are legal) when it comes to hiring temporary help:
• Employ U.S. workers, and then pray enough of them show up to complete the job.
• Hire illegal aliens and hope Immigrations and Customs Enforcement doesn’t stage a raid, which could effectively shut down the grower’s business, perhaps permanently, and at minimum trigger a ruined season.
• Craft a winning solution and get a good night’s sleep: Work with an employer agent specializing in the H-2A guestworker program, the only legal avenue for employing temporary, non-immigrant laborers.
The H-2A visa allows agricultural employers who expect a shortage of domestic workers to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to
perform agricultural labor on a temporary or seasonal basis (defined as less than a year). It’s time consuming and can be expensive. It involves multiple regulatory hurdles.
But the people who depend on the program know it works — with mutual benefits to employers and workers alike.
“Insure” Your Labor
“One strategy we endorse is to consider diversifying your workforce,” says Libby Whitley, an established H-2A expert whose company, MasLabor, works with U.S. employers to solve their temporary labor needs. “Consider targeted use of H-2A,” she adds.
Whitley says many growers split their workforce equally between U.S. workers, when available, and guestworkers, while others vary the ratio depending on how many workers they need and who actually shows up to work. “Consider transitioning to a guaranteed legal program,” Whitley says. “You can do that in a very targeted, specific way.”
When using the H-2A program, employers are required to advertise in local newspapers about the availability of seasonal work and prove domestic labor is inadequate or unavailable before seeking temporary non-immigrant workers.
Agents handle the application paperwork, coordinate with labor recruiters in foreign countries, track the progress of visa approvals, and ensure the temporary workers arrive on the job site as close as possible to the first day they are needed. Professional agents make it their job to stay on top of the ever-evolving H-2A rules and regulations, while working to understand an employer’s labor needs so the right workers are hired.
In turn, the workers are employed within a legal system which protects their rights and gives them job infor-mation upfront. They know before
accepting the jobs where they’re going in the U.S., what kind of work they’ll be doing, and how much they can expect to be paid. Labor costs are locked in by contract and workers typically live on-site until it is time for them to return home. The result is there is no risk of a mid-harvest strike for more money.
Whitley says she always likes to see an H-2A job go to any U.S. citizen who wants it, but adds that the reality is, few Americans are willing to do agricultural work. Even with unemployment rates on the rise, Whitley doubts U.S. workers will meet the need filled by non-immigrants on temporary work visas. “The workers aren’t available in the numbers needed to meet seasonal labor demands in agriculture,” she says.