Mar 11, 2024
H-2A report proposes change throughout system

The House Agricultural Labor Working Group is recommending sweeping changes to the H-2A temporary visa program.

The group, whose 16 members are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Agriculture, has released its report on agricultural labor. Of the 21 policy recommendations covered in the report, 16 received unanimous support by the members.

Portrait of man gardener picking harvest of lettuce to crate and using knife in garden
File photo

Groups representing specialty crops have responded favorably. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association (GFVGA) called the proposals “an opportunity to bring meaningful change,” making H-2A more affordable, streamlined and sustainable.

Chris Butts

“We hope that Congress will address these recommendations with the same sense of urgency that our growers need in order to remain competitive in the global market,” Chris Butts, GFVGA executive director, said in a news release. “Rule changes and AEWR (Adverse Effect Wage Rate) increases continue to make the program more difficult to use, more expensive, and have put Georgia growers at a decided disadvantage to our foreign competitors. We now have a roadmap to bring relief to U.S. growers and we urge Congress to act now.”

The AEWR is the hourly wage set by the Department of Labor (DOL) for H-2A workers, and it often sees double-digit increases from year to year. The House labor group focused a number of proposals on the H-2A wages, including:

Wage reform — a cap on large fluctuations in wage rates, with no increase for 2025 and no more than a 3.25% increase after that, with the agriculture secretary involved in the decision starting in 2030.

AEWR waiver for small farms — exempts farms with gross cash farm incomes of less than $350,000 from AEWR requirements.

Reform DOL’s AEWR calculation — calls for an alternate method to determine the AEWR, and not on the USDA’s Farm Labor Survey, to better capture real domestic wages.

Michael Marsh
Michael Marsh

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) said the House working group is advocating for much-needed H-2A reform.

“Timely passage of these proposed reforms by the committee of jurisdiction will stem the flight of U.S. food production to our foreign competition and enhance America’s national security,” Marsh said in a statement.

Cathy Burns, CEO of the International Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement that the report is a bipartisan road map to relief needed by the fresh produce and floral industry.

“Congress cannot continue to rely on the undeniable tenacity of the American farmer to figure out a way to survive under the current broken system and must act now to prevent more farms from going out of business,” Burns said in the statement.

Cathy Burns

Other proposals in the report address specialty crop needs, such as the staggering of employees under the same application. Currently, if a grower needs to increase the number of workers as harvest peaks, they have to file separate applications for those workers. The report supports allowing separate dates of employment, saving paperwork and extra application fees.

Several proposals seek to streamline the process by establishing a single online portal to file for applications, allow employers to advertise jobs in non-print media, waive in-person interviews by federal agencies for returning employees, and expedite delayed worker applications.

Another proposal would allow industries that have year-round work to use the H-2A program, such as poultry, dairy and other agricultural industries.

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