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H-2A numbers continue to rise

ag workers

The government’s H-2A program for contracting with agricultural workers from abroad continues to expand in the first two quarters of fiscal year 2022, reports Rural Migration News from the University of California at Davis.

The Department of Labor certified 193,200 jobs to be filled with H-2A workers in those quarters, up 16 percent from 166,000 jobs certified in the first two quarters of FY21.The Labor Department could certify over 350,000 jobs in FY22, up from 317,600 in FY21.

With 26,677 positions, Florida was the single largest user of H-2A labor, accounting for 13.8 percent of the total.

California was next, with 24,428 positions and 12.6 percent of the total.

Overall, the Pacific states—California, Oregon, and Washington—account for about half of U.S. farm worker employment and a fifth of H-2A job certifications, suggesting that the program is likely to grow fastest in the Western states. H-2A workers account for the highest share of farm workers in the southeastern states.

Vegetables, apples, grapes, and strawberries are the commodities that employ most of the farm laborers who are hired directly. Most workers who pick oranges are hired by farm labor contractors.

In California, wages for vegetables were highest, averaging $945 a week. Grape workers earned an average of $790, strawberry workers $640, and $590 for apple workers. (Figures are for fiscal 2020.)

The adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) for fiscal 2022 varied state by state, from a high of $17.51 in California to a low of $11.99 in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Florida’s was $12.41—over $5 less than California’s.

The AEWR is effectively a minimum wage for H-2A workers. It is computed by the regional weighted average hourly wage rate for field and livestock workers combined. Although growers may pay on a piecework basis, they must pay an average equivalent to the AEWR in their state.

The government’s H-2A program for contracting with agricultural workers from abroad continues to expand in the first two quarters of fiscal year 2022, reports Rural Migration News from the University of California at Davis.

The Department of Labor certified 193,200 jobs to be filled with H-2A workers in those quarters, up 16 percent from 166,000 jobs certified in the first two quarters of FY21.The Labor Department could certify over 350,000 jobs in FY22, up from 317,600 in FY21.

With 26,677 positions, Florida was the single largest user of H-2A labor, accounting for 13.8 percent of the total.

California was next, with 24,428 positions and 12.6 percent of the total.

Overall, the Pacific states—California, Oregon, and Washington—account for about half of U.S. farm worker employment and a fifth of H-2A job certifications, suggesting that the program is likely to grow fastest in the Western states. H-2A workers account for the highest share of farm workers in the southeastern states.

Vegetables, apples, grapes, and strawberries are the commodities that employ most of the farm laborers who are hired directly. Most workers who pick oranges are hired by farm labor contractors.

In California, wages for vegetables were highest, averaging $945 a week. Grape workers earned an average of $790, strawberry workers $640, and $590 for apple workers. (Figures are for fiscal 2020.)

The adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) for fiscal 2022 varied state by state, from a high of $17.51 in California to a low of $11.99 in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Florida’s was $12.41—over $5 less than California’s.

The AEWR is effectively a minimum wage for H-2A workers. It is computed by the regional weighted average hourly wage rate for field and livestock workers combined. Although growers may pay on a piecework basis, they must pay an average equivalent to the AEWR in their state.

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.