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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Agriculture's Employment Problems

The topic of immigration has been a hot button over the past decade. The media has jumped on this conversation, or heated debate may be a better term to describe it, but they have ignored the dysfunction in the legal non-immigrant visa programs that the agriculture sector so heavily relies on. I have been exposed to the problem in the status-quo because my family is actively experiencing these problems.

2014 Harvest Crew: 5 H-2A visas & 9 J-1 visa  
My family has a farm and a custom harvesting operation (Frederick Harvesting) where we hire approximately 22 seasonal employees for 8 months of the year to help with the preparation of the harvest season and then be either a combine operator or truck driver for both the summer and fall seasons. Of the 22 seasonal employees about half of the crew is American and the other half is foreign. Our foreign employees are from countries you wouldn't normally think that the agricultural sector relies on; England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia mainly. We hire these men their first year on a J-1 visa.  The J-1 visa is described as, "The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs" according to After the workers come through this visa, if they loved their work and want to come back and work for us for the next season they must come back through the H-2A visa program. This is where the dysfunction happens.

The H-2A visa program is described by the U.S Citizen and Immigration Services as, "The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs." (

2010 crew: 3 H-2A visas, 8 J-1 visas
The root of the problem is that Americans don't want to hold these jobs and there is a line of young skilled foreigners that want these jobs. The H-2 visa program is a cycle of dysfunction and frustration for the employer and the foreign employee. The employee works and is trained on the job for 8 months, has to go to their home country for 4 months with uncertainty if they will even be accepted to the visa program for the next year. This makes for an uncertain and unstable labor force for the employer. When talking to my dad who deals with these problems hands on he said, "The program needs to be a more reliable system so that the employee and I don't have to play a waiting game." He went on to point out that these workers are legal and paying taxes in this country to work here. Something clearly must change.

The Ag sector is voicing that they want change. A logical fix that is being discussed in D.C. is to grant an H-2A visa for a 3-year period with the worker going home during the off season. Another one of the major changes that is being lobbied for is for the H-2A visa program is to include sheepherders and dairy workers. The dairy industry is running into the same problem; not enough American workers that want to do the job.

Karly Frederick
Ag-business Major

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