Experts estimate that about 75 percent of total labor hours in tobacco production are performed by international seasonal workers. To employ these workers, growers must use the H-2A visa program—a program that can seem complicated and difficult to navigate.
Last year, Congress passed no new legislation on the H-2A program; however, a few promising program initiatives may help growers, according to Kerry Scott, program manager at MAS Labor, a for-profit service provider of H-2A services.
The first is an initiative to add new W visas to the program. A W visa would work to streamline the process for employers registering job openings that could be filled by temporary foreign workers. While Scott believes this measure is a step in the right direction, he says it might not establish enough visas. “When there are too few visas and the demand for seasonal workers is still high, it creates a situation for undocumented workers,” Scott says.
The second part of the initiative is a free agent program, which would allow certified employees to change employers after employees complete their initial jobs. Currently, H-2A workers can only work for the employer that brought them to the country. When that growing season is over, the worker is not allowed to find employment from another grower in need. This measure would change that rule.
For more information on the H-2A program, application guidelines and requirements, see the MAS-H2A Program for Agricultural Employers at www.maslabor.com/pages/h2a.html, or visit Andrew Jackson’s website at legalfarmworkersh2avisas.com.