The H-2A Program: A Brief Introduction

This report provides basic information on the H-2A program as well evidence of its use in the US and in Louisiana for the period FY2008-FY2019.

The H-2A program is a US governmental program that allows domestic producers to hire seasonal, foreign labor to obtain legal, temporary employment in the US. This program is designed to help domestic farmers secure the amount of labor that they need in order ensure successful growing and harvesting seasons. Demand for nonimmigrant workers has increased in the later years, whereas reports show that availability of domestic labor is decreasing. As an example, we observe a 165% increase in the number of H-2A workers hired via the program between FY2008 and FY2019. Currently, there is no cap on the number of H-2A visas that are allowed to be issued in a given year. A critical component of this program is that it is temporary, meaning that foreign laborers are not allowed to work in the US for more than a year. However, there is an exception for special circumstances.

In order to participate in the H-2A program, foreign laborers must live in one of the 84 countries approved by the Department of Homeland Security. Despite the large list of potential countries, a significant portion of foreign labor currently in the US is from Mexico, with 68% occupancy of the labor force between 2003 and 2014. This may be due to the close geographical proximity between the two countries.

Requirements to participate in the H-2A program are as follows:

  • No available US farm workers are able to perform these jobs
  • No wages and working conditions of US farm workers are adversely impacted with the hiring of foreign labor
  • Housing and transportation must be provided to the international hires
  • Foreign labor employment should not affect the employment of a US farm worker within the operation.

Once a petitioner decides that they would like to participate in the H-2A program, there are a multitude of steps that must be followed in order to receive approval on an application. A simplified version of the program process is as follows:

  • Step 1: Petitioner must submit a temporary labor certification application to the US Department of Labor US DOL.
  • Step 2: Form I-129 must be submitted to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Proof of the temporary labor certification must also be submitted with this form.
  • Step 3: International foreign laborers must apply for a visa and/or admission. This can be done at a US Embassy or Consulate. Workers may also seek direct entry at a US port of entry if a visa is not required for work.

H2A Application Processpng

Participation in the H-2A program has been steadily increasing throughout the US since 2007, as shown in Figure 2.

Trends in DOL certificationspng

H-2A Programs in Louisiana FY2008-FY2019

Many producers in Louisiana apply for the H-2A program every year. Over 1,000 applications were submitted to the US DOL on behalf of Louisiana producers in FY2019 alone, indicating the importance of the program to this region. Between FY2008-FY2019, there was a 125% increase in the number of H-2A applications submitted to the US DOL, from 476 to 1,072 applications. With this growth in the number of application submissions, a complementary rise in the number of workers requested and certified has also increased. Between FY2008-FY2019, there was approximately a 194% increase in the number of workers requested and a 164% increase in the number of workers certified, increasing from 95,935 workers to 282,537 workers and 102,425 workers to 271,353 workers, respectively. With regards to the number of workers requested, this information is not provided for FY2008-FY2010 and FY2013-FY2014. The top commodities that request H-2A labor are sugarcane, crawfish, and rice. Depictions of these statistics are shown below.





  • Bier, D.J. 2020. “H-2A Visas for Agriculture: The Complex Process for Farmers to Hire Agricultural Guest Workers”
  • Garcia, P. 2014. Documenting and classifying labor: the effect of legal discourse on the treatment of H-2A workers. Archival Science, 14(3-4), 345-363.
  • Center for Global Development. “H-2A Program for Temporary Agricultural Workers”
  • Luckstead, J. and Devadoss, S. 2019. “The Importance of H-2A Guest Workers in Agriculture.” Choices 34(1).
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Multiple years. Farm Labor. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service.
  • U.S. Department of Labor. 2019. Foreign Labor Certification: Disclosure Data Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 2020. “H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers.”


7/1/2020 9:28:20 PM
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