September 21, 2017

H2A Visa Use Reaches Record High

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

H2A visa use in agriculture is on the rise, but dairies have a hard time capitalizing on the guest worker program. According to the U.S. office of Foreign Labor, demand for H2A visas has been growing steadily since the program began, reaching a high in 2017. During the first three quarters of the year, the Department of Labor issued visas to more than 160,000 workers, that’s 30,000 more than were approved during the same period last year.

Not many dairies utilize the H2A visa program. That can be seen in the map below which shows concentration of 2016 milk production in the United States compared to the number of H2A visas approved in 2016.

H2A Visas, Dairy Cattle by State

Click the state to see the number of agricultural visas approved in 2016. Blue circles indicate the number of dairy cows by state in 2016. (Christopher Walljasper/Farm Journal Media)

One reason it’s so hard for dairy farmers to use H2A visas is that jobs on the dairy are often all year round. Some farmers feel it would be more of a burden than a help to have to train new employees every few months like the H2A program would require. Another reason is that H2A visas are job specific and preference is given to seasonal jobs like planting and harvesting.

For that reason, you’ll notice the largest concentration of approved H2As are in states that grow a lot of fruits and vegetables.

The H2A program is managed by three federal agencies: The Department of labor, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the State Department.