The H-2A program plays a significant role in supporting the agricultural industry in the United States, including North Carolina. The program is instrumental because domestic labor often falls short in meeting the demands for labor-intensive crops. Facilitating this program, in part, are farm labor contractors (FLCs), who help bring H-2A workers to the United States, particularly to farms in North Carolina and others states in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The H-2A program operates under strict regulations enforced by the US Department of Labor and other government agencies. These regulations change periodically, creating a complex environment that farmers and FLCs must navigate as they carry out their essential work.
I was recently quoted in an article in The Raleigh News & Observer that discusses the essential nature of migrant workers’ labor for North Carolina farmers. It is important to note that instances of poor treatment of H-2A workers by FLCs are relatively rare. FLCs are in the business of supplying labor for agriculture, and if they engage in abusive practices, fail to pay workers, or violate the law, they risk their reputation and ability to attract workers as negative feedback spreads quickly in the industry. Moreover, FLCs are subject to both civil and criminal penalties for violating labor laws, including wage and hour regulations. In fact, a civil lawsuit alleging these violations or “human trafficking” can have devastating financial consequences for FLCs and farmers, many of whom may also face legal action for alleged violations connected to FLCs.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in lawsuits alleging “human trafficking.” This rise appears to be linked, at least in part, to the growing number of visa applications based on claims of being a victim of trafficking or other criminal activities. These visas, known as “T” or “U” visas, provide individuals with the opportunity to remain in the US, obtain work authorization, and apply for lawful permanent resident status. While these visas serve an essential purpose, they may have also contributed to the increasing number of “human trafficking” claims in civil lawsuits.
Another challenge faced in the H-2A program is the trend of H-2A workers arriving in the US, working briefly to collect a paycheck or two plus travel expense reimbursement, and then disappearing. This poses multiple issues, as farmers and FLCs invest a substantial amount upfront to bring in these workers with the expectation that they will stay for the entire agricultural season. Losing workers within the first few weeks of the season is highly detrimental to those trying to cultivate crops or raise livestock. Additionally, H-2A workers are required to return to their home country when their visa expires or when they leave their employment. Those who depart shortly after arriving in the US often do not comply with this legal requirement.
In conclusion, the issue of labor in the agricultural sector, particularly regarding the H-2A program, is undoubtedly complex. Nonetheless, farm labor contractors continue to provide a valuable service to North Carolina’s agricultural community. Their role in facilitating the program helps sustain the industry, ensuring that it meets the demands of labor-intensive crop harvesting and benefits the broader agricultural community in the state.
Please feel free to reach out to Marshall Wall if you have additional questions.