Immigration reform has been receiving a vast amount of attention from the Obama administration in the last year, particularly the last seven months. According to the North Carolina Farmworker Institute, approximately 150,000 farm workers enter North Carolina during growing season, and the majority of them are immigrants. The Farmworker Ministry Committee is made up of a diverse group of advocacy, health and faith-based organizations which represent the statewide collaboration that is dedicated to improving the conditions for farm workers through public awareness, advocacy and support. The organization explains farm work below:
- Farm work involves planting, cultivating, harvesting, and preparing crops for market or storage.
- Migrant farm workers live in temporary housing and travel from place to place to find agricultural work, whereas seasonal farm workers live in one community year-round.
- Farm workers are generally employed by the farm's owners or by "crew leaders" who are a link between the farm worker and the farm owners.
- Under the H2-A program, foreign guest workers can perform seasonal farm work under a temporary work visa that is designed for agricultural workers in the United States.
Carol Brooke, who is in charge of the Workers' Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center, says there is a downside to the H-2A temporary visa. "If there are problems with working conditions, or the amount of work, there's a great incentive not to complain, because they don't have the opportunity to switch employers freely, as other workers do. They're doing a very difficult job, and they deserve to be able to do it under fair working conditions, with their families here and with the ability to participate fully in U.S. society."
Brook says that North Carolina has more temporary foreign agricultural workers than any other state in the nation. These farm workers typically travel from Mexico in the late spring or early summer to North Carolina to pick cucumbers, tobacco, and other crops. Brook said that in November the farm workers pick the sweet potatoes that grace our Thanksgiving tables, and in December they cut our Christmas trees. She said the vast majority of these North Carolina H-2A workers come here through the North Carolina Growers' Association (NCGA).
The NCGA plays a major role in the seasonal farm worker process, the NCGA fills out the paperwork for the farmers to apply for permission to bring these workers into the U.S. and place them on farms. The farmers pay a sizeable fee to the NCGA for this service, and under the H-2A visa program, farmers are exempt from having to pay Social Security or unemployment taxes. While the H2-A program is an incentive for American farmers to avoid hiring American workers, it's not so easy for the migrant workers who live in camps and must leave their families behind in their home countries.
The H-2A visa allows U.S. employers to employ foreign nationals in temporary agricultural jobs. In order to qualify for the H-2A nonimmigrant classification, the farmer/employer must offer a job that is temporary or seasonal, demonstrate there isn't sufficient U.S. workers who are able and willing to do the job, show that the employment of the H-2A worker will not adversely affect the wages of the U.S. workers, and submit with the petition a valid temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. For more information about H-2A visas, please contact a North Carolina immigration attorney from Brown Immigration Law, we look forward to assisting you with this or any other immigration matter.