The challenges of the H-2A program and hiring for 'the backbone of our economy'
A seminar at the Agweek Farm Show examined the H-2A program and other job recruitment strategies that have worked in the past and are working right now for agriculture.
ROCHESTER, Minn — It's challenging to find and hire employees in the current hiring market, whether on the farm, in sales or services or other fields in agriculture.
A seminar at the Agweek Farm Show examined the H-2A program and other job recruitment strategies that have worked in the past and are working right now.
John Stiffin, a community services representative for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, provides outreach for the department and is a go-to perso about laws related to the department, as well as services provided to employers and potential employees.
Stiffin said when he talks to high school students currently working on farms through his job, more than half of them don't plan to work in agriculture in the future.
"That's a scary thing, because agriculture is the backbone of our economy," said Stiffin.
The panel featured Jill Azocar, assistant district director for the U.S. Department of Labor-Wage and Hour Division's Minneapolis District Office. Azocar works for the agency responsible for enforcing the labor standards requirements under the H-2A provisions.
Azocar said that the most common and well known law that her office enforces has to do with the Fair Labor Standards Act, which incorporates payment of minimum wage, overtime, child labor and record keeping.
The law her office enforces that's specific to agricultural employers would be the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), which sets disclosure requirements and some basic health and safety requirements for employers that are hiring either hybrid or seasonal labor.
"We also enforce the labor protections under the H-2A visa program," said Azocar. "We are not at the front end of processing those applications, but at the tail end of providing compliance assistance to employers wanting to use that program."
Azocar said her office is an enforcement authority, conducting investigations to determine the level of compliance in that program area.
The H-2A visa program is available to employers who can certify to the U.S. government that there is not a sufficient workforce available to fill that kind of agricultural labor.
"So agricultural employers are required, if they want to participate in this program, to recruit U.S. workers for the work and show that they performed this recruitment activity," said Azocar.
Once that step is completed, Azocar said the employer will submit an application via the Department of Labor, and on that application specify the period they need to foreign workers.
H-2A workers for non-seasonal operations
"So often in Minnesota, that will be April to November, or April to December," she said of H-2A employment.
For dairy operations, which are not considered to be seasonal operations, Azocar said that the H-2A visa program is still an option.
"We have seen some dairy operations use H-2A labor," said Azocar. "Often the workers aren't performing the direct dairy work but instead are doing work related to grain or the other seasonal operations of that dairy farm."
Room AND board
Housing must be provided free of charge to H-2A workers and any worker of corresponding employment, said Azocar — meaning any U.S. hired staff member that cannot go home at night.
"The housing either needs to have kitchen facilities in which H-2A workers have space where they can prepare their own food," said Azocar.
If cooking facilities are not provided, the employer must provide three meals daily but can charge a nominal fee, or the cost of providing those meals, said Azocar.
"If cooking facilities are provided, workers would do their own grocery shopping and pay for their own food and prepare their own meals," said Azocar.