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• The labor needed to harvest tobacco, vegetable and fruit crops is not keeping pace and the problem is likely to get worse, unless changes are made in temporary worker program and politics.
WILSON, N.C., farmer Lyn Vick says speaking Spanish reduces problems associated with H2-A farm labor.
Don’t count on local labor
Last year the agency posted more than 7,500 jobs, yet only 350 Americans applied. Though virtually all the American applicants were accepted for jobs, virtually all of them quit before their contract expired.
While there is some hard work, and in adverse weather conditions, farm laborers are treated well and paid well — often much more than minimum wage. The concept most urban residents have of farm labor is much different than the reality of these jobs.
Picking peaches, for example, in the Ridge area of South Carolina is definitely hard labor, but it’s typically done in the morning and in areas shaded by the peach trees.
Typically, workers go from picking peaches in an orchard to sorting and packing peaches in an air-conditioned, ultra clean packing house.
Mexico has long been the primary supplier of farm labor, and more recently, of labor in construction and other industries. The recent economic slowdown in the U.S. has funneled more workers back into agriculture, but the number of Mexican laborers available for all jobs in the U.S. is going down.
A recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center says the number of people immigrating to the United States from Mexico is now almost equal to those immigrating to Mexico from the United States.
The study explains the slowdown is possibly a result of a crackdown on illegal immigration in the United States, increased violence along the border and a growing job market in Mexico.
Blake Brown, a professor and Extension economist at North Carolina State University points out that an upturn in the United States’ economy could further draw migrant laborers away from farm work and toward other job sectors with better working conditions and higher wages, such as construction,
The U.S. Farm Bureau Federation estimates that 50-70 percent of all immigrant labor in the U.S. is in the country illegally. Any injustices that occur almost always occur among the illegal laborers.
New, harsh illegal alien laws in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have significantly disrupted long-standing pathways of illegal labor that migrated south to north to harvest farm crops.
The alternative to illegal labor is the Federal H-2A program.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is administered by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) of the Employment Training Administration (ETA).
The INA covers agricultural employers seeking to hire temporary agricultural workers under H-2A visas.
The work to be performed must be “of a temporary (or seasonal) nature,” meaning employment that is performed at certain seasons of the year, usually in relation to the production and/or harvesting of a crop, or for a limited time period of less than one year.
The farmer must clearly demonstrate that the need for the foreign workers is truly temporary.