( Department of Labor )

While immigration reform for agriculture has been tough to push through Congress, statistics show the H-2A program continues to expand rapidly.

Growers say the H-2A program creates a high-cost structure to the mid-$20s per hour, but the certainty of securing a workforce trumps its high cost.

“Year over year, we are 16% above the prior year,” said Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers. 

2017 also saw similar double-digit growth to the program, he said.

This year, the Department of Labor may approve 240,000 H-2A visas, Marsh said, compared with about 85,000 positions certified in the fiscal year 2012.

Statistics from the Office of Foreign Labor Certification say the number of applications received for the H-2A from October through March was up 16% compared with the same period a year ago.

Positions certified from January through March in 2018 totaled 80,348, up 17% from the same quarter last year.

Top states for the H-2A positions certified from October to March were:

  • Florida (17,493 positions, up 15.6%)
  • Georgia (16,004 positions, up 14.3%)
  • Washington (10,751 positions, up 9.6%)
  • California (10,092 positions, up 9%)
  • North Carolina (7,952 positions, up 7.1%)

From October through March, positions certified for berries accounted for 11% of all positions, compared with 6.4% or lettuce, 3.9% for fruits and vegetables, 3.7% for onions, 3.5% for apples and 3.1% for cherries.