The H-2A temporary agricultural program — which allows U.S. agricultural employers to hire foreign workers for seasonal jobs — has more than tripled in size in the past decade, according to a data analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Between 2010 and 2019, the number of H-2A positions certified by the U.S. Department of Labor rose by more than 220%. All agricultural sectors saw an increase, but the growth in H-2A employment was more pronounced in product categories with high labor requirements and seasonal jobs.

Producers of the “vegetables and melons” and “fruit and tree nuts” categories were the main H-2A users. The number of H-2A visas certified for vegetables and melons increased by 330%, from about 20,600 in 2010 to 88,900 in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of certifications for fruit and tree nuts grew nearly 400%, from about 18,100 to 85,800.

The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the country to perform temporary jobs. To qualify for the program, employers must show that there aren’t enough U.S. workers to do the job and that employing H-2A workers will not adversely affect wages and working conditions of domestic workers.

The program hasn’t been free of controversy. On Wednesday, Black farmworkers in Mississippi filed a lawsuit alleging an employer was using the program to circumvent having to hire Americans.

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Amanda Perez Pintado is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Lead photo: Julia Hansen

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