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Meatpacking companies have long relied on immigrant workers to staff the dangerous plants that kill, cut and package America's protein. The federal government has estimated that more than a quarter of the industry's workforce are foreign-born non-citizens.

But, since 2015, the number of meatpacking companies employing people on temporary work visas has nearly doubled, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The number of companies using these visas is small compared to the entire industry, but a trend has emerged over the past several years.

Under the H2B visa program, employers hire foreign workers to come to the U.S. for a certain period of time, usually just for a season or during the employer's busiest production time.

For instance, Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, Missouri — which USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting investigated last year for its practices during the COVID-19 pandemic — hired 100 foreign workers late in 2019 to help with its peak season, according to labor department data.

H2B visas are for non-agricultural jobs. People on H2A visas pick the fruits and vegetables America depends on.

DATA ANALYSIS: The data for this graphic comes from the U.S. Department of Labor's performance data. "Meatpacking" was defined as having an NAICS code of 311611, 311612, 311613 or 311615. OSHA uses the first three codes to define "meatpacking." The fourth code is poultry processing. Prior to 2015, the performance data on the DOL's website does not include NAICS codes, making comparison to previous years difficult.