The Expanding Role of H-2A Workers in U.S. Agriculture


June 11, 2024


June 11, 2024

The H-2A Temporary Agriculture Worker Program allows U.S. employers that face a shortage of domestic workers to hire foreign nationals for temporary or seasonal agricultural jobs. An American Immigration Council (the Council) analysis of Department of Labor data reveals significant demand across the country for H-2A workers. These workers have provided vital support to America's food production.

Rising Demand for H-2A Workers

Between 2017 and 2022, the number of certified H-2A workers—those who are requested by employers and then certified by the DOL—grew by 64.7 percent, from 224,965 to 370,628. This marked increase underscores the agricultural sector's increasing reliance on temporary foreign workers to fill its open jobs.

However, DOL certification of an H-2A request does not necessarily lead to the issuance of a temporary work visa. After certification, both the employer and worker must complete the USCIS approval process before the worker can begin employment in the United States. In recent years, about 80 percent of jobs certified as H-2A have resulted in visas.


Growing Geographic Footprint

The number of U.S. counties where employers requested H-2A workers also increased, rising 35.2 percent between 2017 and 2022. By 2022, more than two-thirds of U.S. counties had certified H-2A workers. Those with the highest numbers of certified H-2A workers were Monterey County, California; Moore County, North Carolina; and Yuma County, Arizona.

Most certified H-2A workers continued to be in major fruit- and vegetable-producing states. Florida had the highest number of certified H-2A workers in 2022, at 51,000, followed by California, Georgia, Washington, and North Carolina. Texas saw the highest percentage increase, with the number of certified H-2A workers tripling between 2017 and 2022, from 3,700 to 11,700.

Severe Labor Shortage in the Agriculture Sector

While U.S.-born Americans have long shown a declining interest in manual farm labor, a recent spike in the demand for H-2A workers may be driven in part by an aging workforce.

According to the Council’s analysis of American Community Survey data, while the average age of all laborers in crop production rose slightly between 2006 and 2022, from 39.6 years to 40.6 years, the average age of laborers rose more substantially, from 37.2 years to 41.6 years. This indicates a declining share of young crop laborers, especially crop laborers, in the U.S. agricultural workforce.

Furthermore, the U.S. has seen a shift in agricultural practices, with a growing need for labor-intensive crop production such as fruit and vegetables, which require more manual labor than mechanized farming.

Hiring H-2A Workers

Between 2017 and 2022, the average hourly wage for H-2A workers in the United States increased slightly, from $13.65 to $14.46 in 2022 dollars. This 5.9-percent increase reflects an increasing demand for these workers to help keep U.S. farms running.

H-2A workers are increasingly likely to be hired by farm labor contractors (FLCs), brokers who recruit and hire farmworkers directly and may provide housing and transportation to the farms. The proportion of H-2A employment provided through FLCs surged from 15 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2022.

FLCs are categorized as an industry, and thus represented the top industry that employed H-2A workers in 2022. It was followed by support activities for crop production; vegetable and melon farming; fruit and nut tree farming; and nursery and floriculture production. These workers are vital in helping American farmers to grow fruit and vegetables on U.S. soil, thus reducing the country’s reliance on imported food.

The increase in demand for H-2A workers has also brought renewed attention to concerns about worker exploitation. In 2024, the DOL implemented new rules designed to protect workers and strengthen employer oversight. The protections go into effect on June 28, 2024, and include rules to increase transparency in the application process; allow agricultural workers to engage in collective action; establish standards for termination; and prohibit employers from withholding workers' passports and immigration documents.

Working in High Heat Conditions

H-2A workers endure many challenging work conditions, but perhaps most notable is the heat. An analysis by the Council of Department of Labor data finds that 13.7 percent of certified H-2A laborers are required to work during months when the average local temperature exceeds 90°F (32°C). In southern states like Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas, more than 1 in 4 certified H-2A workers work in those temperatures.

The heatmap below organizes over 2,100 U.S. counties by the number of certified H-2A workers and the average maximum monthly temperatures in 2022. The table highlights a notable trend: counties with the largest number of certified H-2A workers are often in some of the hottest regions in the country, leaving their farm laborers vulnerable to dangerous working conditions.

2022 H-2A Agricultural Workforce Demand and Climate Conditions: A Nationwide Heatmap of Labor and Temperature Trends

I want to see the number of certified H-2A workers in
Numbers in the boxes represent the monthly number of certified H-2A workers. Counties are sorted by the total number of certified H-2A workers in 2022.
County January February March April May June July August September October November December


For decades the highly popular H-2A program has served as a lifeline for U.S. agriculture, filling critical labor gaps and making it possible for American farms to grow much of our fruits, vegetables and nuts on U.S. soil. The Council’s analysis highlights not only the scale and significance of these H-2A workers, but also draws attention to the urgent issues they face. The United States is increasingly relying on H-2A workers to produce its food. As such, we must develop comprehensive policy solutions to address labor shortages, improve working conditions, and ensure fair wages for all agricultural laborers


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