Agricultural Guest Worker Visas
North Carolina’s economy relies on the agricultural industry (read more from last week’s blog) and with the lack of domestic workers, the H-2A visa program has become an integral part of the agricultural industry across the United States. The H-2A agricultural guest worker visa program enables legal and temporary migration to the United States for agricultural work. North Carolina is one of the largest users of this temporary visa, employing between 14,000 and 17,000 H-2A workers annually.
Although guest farmworker labor has been present in the United States since World War I, beginning with the Bracero Program, the current H-2 programs were created in 1986 by the Immigration Reform and Control Act creating the H-2A program for agricultural workers and H-2B for non-agricultural workers.
In order for someone to come to the United States under the H-2A program, a petitioner, normally a grower, will have to demonstrate there are not enough US workers who are able, willing, qualified and available for the temporary or seasonal agricultural job they are proposing.
Most of the time, an H-2A worker is granted up to one year in the country. They are permitted to bring their spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age under an H-4 classification; however, they will not be eligible for employment. In reality, bringing a spouse and/or children is extremely difficult for a number of reasons, so guest workers arrive solo.
We are Here to Help
In most instances, migrant farmworkers are housed in remote locations and dependent on their employer for transportation and housing, with living conditions being often substandard, with crowded space, lack of privacy, and limited facilities for cooking, showering, or laundering clothes. Migrant farmworkers who are away from their families with few support mechanisms have demonstrated a prevalence of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and sleep disorders. Other barriers farmworkers face include access to health care, language, health literacy and cultural barriers.
It is for these reasons the work Vecinos and other organizations do is so important and necessary. Ensuring the physical and mental health of our farmworkers is vital for the production of their labor. Vecinos focuses on numerous aspects of health care for farmworkers and their families including physical and mental health as well as health education on numerous conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. Aside from health care, Vecinos also provides and connects patients with additional resources such as rent and utility assistance. Vecinos also strives to be socially conscious by advocating for farmworker rights.
In 2019, Vecinos served nearly 1,000 patients with over 850 being farmworkers, including 381 H-2A workers. Vecinos serves the western North Carolina region, where the H2A farmworker demographic is primarily men from Mexico.
We Can All Support
There are many ways you can support farmworkers, such as supporting Vecinos by making monthly donations, subscribing to our newsletter for our latest updates and following us on Facebook and Instagram! You or your organization can donate hygiene kits for newly arrived farmworkers. These kits are made up of items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, soap, athlete’s foot cream, floss and other hygiene tools.
Another great and easy way is to buy products from farmworker friendly companies. The Fair Food Program is a “partnership among farmers, farmworkers and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions.” Some of these companies include Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s and more. To learn more, please visit: https://www.fairfoodprogram.org
Become an advocate for farmworker rights either by voicing your support to your local government officials and Congresspeople for legislative reform on immigration. You can also become a Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) intern to promote justice in the agricultural system. To learn more, please visit: saf-unite.org/