As immigration laws tighten and enforcement becomes more strict, many farmers across the U.S. are struggling to find enough workers to harvest their crops. In California, growers of avocados, berries, and tree fruits rely heavily on migrant workers to help them during the harvesting season. As summer arrives, many farmers are concerned that they won’t have enough workers to pick all of the fruit, leaving much of their harvest to rot on the vine.
Migrant Workers in High Demand
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, nearly fifty percent of farm workers in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants. However, as recent efforts to crack down on illegal immigration have increased, the number of seasonal workers available to work for Californian farmer has gone down.
Farmers, such as avocado grower Rick Shade, depend on migrant workers to help with the harvest. Shade told CNN that he needs fifty harvesters to help him during peak season, and he currently has only half that number or workers. He says that most of the individuals he employed in the past are aging out of the workforce, and there are not very many younger workers around to take their places.
Smaller farmers such as Shade are having trouble attracting and keeping new workers. Even though he pays a decent wage (well over minimum wage), he cannot compete with larger farms who can offer more money to their workers.
The H-2A Guest Farm Worker Visa: Pros and Cons
The government has established the H-2A guest farm worker visa program to issue temporary visas to workers for a period of ten months. The workers then must return home when the season ends. Farmers wishing to participate in this program must provide housing, workers’ compensation, and transportation to and from the worker’s country of origin. While this sounds like a sound way of encouraging migrants to legally participate in the California workforce, the program has been criticized for being difficult to navigate and for being too costly. In many cases, legal representation is needed to sort out a variety of issues.
“When you bring in an H-2A employee or employees, you have to provide housing that is up to government specifications,” said Shade. “If I were to hit the Lotto…I might be able to purchase an old run-down motel and convert it. But that’s the order of magnitude we’re talking about for labor and it’s just not feasible.”
The Future of Agriculture in California
Many farmers are deeply concerned about the labor shortage they are facing. The agriculture industry is pouring billions of dollars into mechanization technology that could possibly help offset the lack of workers. For now, farmers like Shade are trying their best to keep up with their harvests in order to provide consumers with the fruits they want.
If you work in the California agriculture industry and you need help understanding your rights as an employee, Accident Recovery Legal Center is here to help. We offer free initial consultations to help you with any questions you have about how to obtain the workers’ compensation benefits you deserve. Call us today at 1-888-931-WORK (9675) to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.