If polled, almost every employer in the U.S. would site staffing as one of their most significant business challenges. The ag sector is no exception. Particularly during certain seasons of the year, farmers need help finding the number of employees necessary to keep up with the labor demands of their operations.
The H-2A temporary agricultural program helps bridge that gap for farmers. H-2A agent Kellie Sutton strives to make the process as simple as possible. According to Sutton, “H-2A agents help with document completion and filing on state and national levels while ensuring that farmers are aware of all the program requirements.” Because farmers get busy at various times during the year, they can miss important program deadlines, and agents can help take the load off those employers.
Sutton has been working with the H-2A program for the past twenty years. “I grew up on a farm with my grandparents, and working with this program was an opportunity to stay in agriculture.” This ten-month program allows agricultural employers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform labor for a temporary or seasonal need. Seasonal employment is tied to certain times of the year by events or patterns like that in a short annual growing cycle that temporarily requires higher labor levels.
The need and demand for H-2A workers is enormous. Sutton is glad that the government offers this program to help farms continue operations, and she says, “If the need weren’t there, the program wouldn’t last or be as large as it is.” Yet, there can be misconceptions that the program takes jobs away from U.S. workers. One of the determinations that are made with each placement is that the employment of the H-2A worker(s) will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers similarly employed in the U.S. Sutton explains, “People might think that the H-2A program takes away from U.S. workers, but that is simply not the case. In most situations, employers have had openings that did not attract U.S. workers.” The reality is that U.S. workers often need year-round employment, yet many farmers don’t have the need all year. That is why the program is temporary, to meet seasonal needs.
While she enjoys facilitating the placement of temporary workers, Sutton says that not all farmers realize it takes about 90 days to complete the process. She says, “One of the biggest mistakes I see is farmers calling and needing a worker in a week.” Because the government sets deadlines and requirements, having an agent to stay on top of the process can be very beneficial, particularly with the housing and transportation conditions and inspection requirements.
The farmer employers that Sutton has worked with convey that they appreciate how the program helps them fill staffing gaps. In some cases, workers form a strong bond with farmers; as Sutton comments, “We have workers who have been going to the same farm for the past 15 years – in some cases, they have become like family.” In other situations, farmers like having new workers train to operate the best way for their farm. Regardless of the preferences, Sutton says that workers gain much experience and knowledge in the U.S.
Once in a while, there are challenges. Sutton says that, like in any workplace, sometimes it isn’t a fit, or a worker decides to quit. Thankfully, this is not typically a significant problem within the program. For more information about the H-2A program, visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/foreign-labor/programs/h-2a, or contact Kellie Sutton at firstname.lastname@example.org.