By Clint Thompson
The H-2A temporary agricultural workers program is a “old and outdated system.” Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) President Mike Joyner argues it is a “broken” system in need of immediate repair.
“I think first and foremost we struggle to get any domestic workers to work on the farm. We rely so heavily on the H-2A program. We think we brought into Florida about 39,000 in 2020 H-2A workers. But the law that it’s based on is old, outdated; I would argue that it’s broken,” Joyner said. “When it was developed years ago, the H-2A program was a supplement to domestic workers. Now, it’s become the main workforce. We’ve got to make changes. It’s just so difficult to get workers in the country.”
H-2A Program Specifics
The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Like Joyner insisted, the program has become the sole means for Florida producers to find a consistent workforce. But the law has not evolved with the changing times, wherein lies the current problem plaguing farming operations across the state. A main concern is that farmers need a workforce for more than the 10 months the current H-2A program allots for.
“In Florida, in the fruit and vegetable industry, if we had guest workers that could stay in the country 11 months out of the year, we think that would really be helpful. If you’re in the dairy business or if you’re in the nursery business, you’d like to have them 12 months out of the year. They’re trying to make some allowances for that,” Joyner said. “The law that I keep saying is outdated, it just says that the workers must stay in the country for less than a year. The Department of Labor has interpreted that as 10 months. Our argument is why not interpret it as 11 months?”
The House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in March, which would modify the current H-2A program. It’s now up to the Senate, though political discourse is prevailing and has prevailed in past modification attempts.
“A number of years ago they had a bill they felt like went a long way. It had a consensus within the industry, and it just fell apart,” Joyner said. “This one takes a lot of political will. People start throwing around words like amnesty and other things, and it scares people away. But it is broken, and it has to be fixed.”