The H-2A program is a temporary agricultural worker program that allows agricultural employers to hire foreign workers for seasonal agricultural work in the United States. The H-2A program is designed to help farmers and other agricultural employers find workers during peak season when there are not enough domestic workers available. However, finding workers through the H-2A program can be challenging due to competition from other agricultural employers.
One of the biggest concerns for employers using the H-2A program is the cost of labor. The H-2A program requires employers to pay their foreign workers a certain wage rate, which is based on the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). The AEWR is calculated by the Department of Labor and is meant to ensure that foreign workers are not paid less than the average wage for domestic workers in the same region and occupation.
Recently, there have been calls to increase the AEWR to reflect the rising cost of living and the increased demand for agricultural workers. The Department of Labor has announced that it will be increasing the AEWR for H-2A workers. The new wage rates will take effect on January 1, 2024, and will be based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ average hourly wage rate for field and livestock workers.
This increase in the AEWR is a significant development for agricultural employers who rely on the H-2A program. Although some argue it will make it easier for employers to attract and retain workers, the increase has some significant drawbacks, including:
- Increased labor costs: One of the primary concerns for agricultural employers is the cost of labor. With an increase in the AEWR, agricultural employers will need to pay higher wages to their H-2A workers. This increased cost of labor may be difficult for some employers to absorb, especially smaller farms or those with tight profit margins.
- Higher consumer prices: Agricultural employers may pass on the increased labor costs to consumers by raising the prices of their products. This could result in higher prices for fresh produce, which may be difficult for low-income consumers to afford.
- Competition for workers: An increase in the AEWR could make H-2A jobs more attractive to domestic workers, who may have previously shied away from agricultural work due to low wages. This could create competition for H-2A jobs, making it harder for agricultural employers to find the workers they need.
- Reduced profits: Agricultural employers may see a reduction in profits due to the increased labor costs, which may make it more difficult for them to invest in new equipment or expand their operations.