Produce farmers in Alabama have needed more H-2A guest workers to meet the increasing demand for labor. Worse yet, other agricultural operations have developed a similar hiring trend. The executive director of the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Association commented on the struggles farmers face when hiring workers.
According to the executive director, the Association has seen an increase in the number of H-2A visas issued to companies in Alabama for several years now. The Alabama Agricultural Commissioner also commented on the importance of the H-2A program in Alabama. He explained how it became increasingly crucial as Alabama farms rely on it to stay operational.
Furthermore, the record low unemployment and below-average labor participation mean businesses cannot find enough workers. The commissioner also mentioned that he must be careful when discussing the need for more seasonal farm workers. This discretion is because immigration can quickly become political. This fine line has proven to affect discussions about the H-2A program.
H-2A is a “temporary agricultural program that allows agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature.” Farmers in Alabama using the H-2A program must comply with the program’s requirements, such as the housing and transportation requirements.
They must also pay the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR). The AEWR is the minimum hourly wage employers must pay H-2A workers and workers in corresponding employment “to protect workers in the U.S. from adverse effects on their wages or working conditions resulting from hiring foreign workers.”
In Alabama, the AEWR wage is about twice the minimum wage set by the federal government, which is $7.25. Employers must pay the AEWR wage to both H-2A workers and domestic workers. Though it is well above the state’s minimum wage, it has not increased the number of local workers interested in these agricultural jobs.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture has tried raising awareness of the H-2A program among farmers. The Department also tried addressing the lengthy application. This concern is because the program has proven challenging for those using it for the first time.
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