A persistent labor shortage has led agriculture to increasingly rely on the H-2A guest worker program to fill vacancies in farms. In 2019, the Department of Labor certified more than 250,000 H-2A work visas, an increase of 10 percent over the previous year. In order for farmers to be able to hire seasonal workers from other countries, they have to prove that the jobs cannot be filled by domestic workers.
In the past few weeks, the Trump administration has eased farmers’ requirements to use the H-2A program as the pandemic has disrupted labor supply. The Federal Government decided not to conduct personal surveys of workers who would like to be hired after embassies were closed. Farmers can also currently hire foreign workers in the United States, and the three-year period for workers has been temporarily lifted.
Agriculture continued to work from farm workers to grocery store workers during the outbreak. Unions representing farm workers say they should be better protected and given risk payments, free trials and coverage of health costs. Agricultural workers often work and live in tight conditions, which puts them at high risk of contracting the virus.