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It's not so simple to replace H-2A workers

I read your article about how local pear and hemp growers and the like are struggling to meet the new requirements for housing migrant workers during COVID-19. My question is, did they need to bring people in from out of the country if they’re having such a hard time housing them? Couldn’t local people do these jobs?

— Evelyn

This question comes up a lot when it comes to workers who are employed via H-2A visas. But the answer isn’t as simple as may be expected.

The short answer is, probably not. The reason is that H-2A visas are designed to fill employment needs that the resident U.S. population, for a variety of reasons, is not able or willing to fill.

If you visit the information page on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website for H-2A visas, you’ll see what requirements employers have to meet in order to apply for classification as a nonimmigrant employer. They must be offering an agricultural job that is temporary or seasonal in nature, and they must demonstrate that employing H-2A workers “will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.”

The employers must also demonstrate that there are not enough U.S. workers who are “able, willing, qualified and available” to do the work they need done in order for their status as an H-2A employer to be approved.

It’s not that employers only hire H-2A workers during the harvest. Some local employers hire a mix of foreign workers and workers from the local community. Meyer Orchard is one example.

Owner Ron Meyer said his orchard typically employs seven H-2A workers and four or five local workers to complete the harvest.

If there’s a problem with bringing in enough H-2A workers, he said, that would mean a problem for the harvest overall. It’s not so simple as hiring other local people to take the migrant workers’ places.

“Unless they’re experienced somewhat, they can’t really do the job,” Meyer said. “People who come out and try to do it, they’ll pick one or two bins a day, and if they don’t make minimum wage, we have to make up the difference.”

Experienced pickers can typically fill at least six or seven bins per day, he said.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.