Farmers and ranchers are finding it difficult to hire workers who are willing and able to work on farms and in fields. A dwindling rural population, the physical nature of jobs in agriculture, and the transitory nature of some jobs make finding workers problematic. As a result, many farm and ranch employers are turning to the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program using foreign workers to meet their labor needs.
Veronica Nigh, an economist with American Farm Bureau Federation, says the H-2A program has seen steady growth over the past decade with the number of workers growing on average 14 percent each year. In 2017, total guest workers certified equaled slightly more than 200,000. This year, the Department of Labor reported a record number of 317,619 visas were issued, a 15 percent increase over last year.
The number of H-2A certified agricultural guest workers in Nebraska grew from 967 in fiscal year 2016 to 2,755 workers in fiscal year 2020, a 190 percent increase (Figure 3). The number declined for fiscal year 2021 which ended September 30, but it is still well above levels seen over the past decade. Of the visas issued last year, 43.5 percent was agricultural equipment operators, 30.4 percent was crop farmworkers, and 11 percent was livestock workers. The use of the program is growing in other states as well. According to the Department of Labor, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa had all-time record high numbers of guest workers last year. Agricultural guest workers in Indiana and Iowa exceeded 4,000 workers.
The growing usage of the H-2A program demonstrates that more and more agricultural operations are relying on it to secure their labor needs. Labor trends indicate this will likely continue into the future.
Figure 3. Nebraska H-2A Workers Certified Annually