Vick Family Farms in Wilson, N.C., is a long-time user of H-2A labor. They farm tobacco and sweet potatoes, both of which are highly labor intensive. Though there are always concerns from one crew of workers to another, for the most part Lyn Vick says the H-2A program has worked on their farm.

The Vick family, including Dianne and Jerome Vick and son and daughter Lyn and Charlotte Vick, all work in the farming operation.

Each member of the Vick family speaks Spanish. Simply speaking the language has made working relationships much better and reduces communication problems that are often the source of many employer/H-2A laborer problems.

“My Spanish isn’t always perfect, but I can communicate well enough for workers to understand what I want them to do, and I can usually answer any questions they have in a way they can understand,” Lyn Vick says.

The H-2A program is expensive and the chance of being sued under the conditions of the work visas is high. Despite the cost and risks involved with using H-2A labor, for most growers in labor intensive crops, like sweet potatoes, vegetables and tobacco, it is a much lower risk than planting a crop without the certainty of having labor available to pick it.

The cost of the program to farmers extends far beyond the guaranteed work hours and pay at $9.70 per hour that is required for H2-A laborers. The average cost of getting a farm worker to the farm is about $1,000 per worker.

Host farmers must also provide housing, on-farm transportation, workers compensation insurance, and a number of other provisions called for in the H-2A visas.

“There’s one thing that’s more expensive than the H-2A program, and that’s having a beautiful crop ready to harvest and no one to pick it,” Wicker says.

In 2011, North Carolina adopted a mandatory E-Verify system to be phased in by July 2013, requiring all business owners to confirm the legal status of their workers through the electronic program.

On Oct. 1, 2012, the law takes effect for employers that employ 500 or more employees. On Jan. 1, 2013, the law takes effect for employers that employ 100 or more employees. On July 1, 2013, the law takes effect for employers that employ 25 or more employees.

An employer covered by the Act will be required to enter a new-hire's information reported on the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, into the E-Verify system to determine the eligibility of that employee to work in the United States.

An employer must retain the records of the verification of the employee's work authorization during the length of that employee's employment and for one year after the end of the employment period.

“The key to ensuring a legal and reliable agriculture labor supply nationwide is to enact policy that makes the H-2A program more user-friendly or to create additional facilitator organizations like the growers association,” says North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler.

rroberson@farmpress.com