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H-2A workers crucial for Northwest fruit industry

A study prepared for wafla by ECONorthwest finds that H-2A workers generated $619 million in economic activity for the tree fruit industry in 2015. In that year, Washington farmers received visas for 11,844 workers through the H-2A legal worker program.

In 2017, that number has increased 31.8 percent, with a proportional increase in economic contribution. The study demonstrates the economic importance of H-2A workers to the Washington economy in light of well documented labor shortages.

“The H-2A program benefits all workers, foreign and domestic, through higher wages, free housing, and stringent work regulations,” said wafla CEO Dan Fazio. “The Trump administration asked us to make the business case for this program, and this study answers that challenge. We look forward to working with the Administration and elected officials from both parties to increase access to this great program.”

Farmers who enter the H-2A program agree to pay a minimum wage of $13.38 per hour to all workers, nearly 22 percent higher than farmers who don’t use the program. In addition, the farmers agree to stringent regulations, including hiring all qualified domestic workers and providing free housing and transportation to workers who need it. In exchange, these farmers are allowed to petition for visas for foreign workers if there are insufficient numbers of domestic workers.

Wafla, a membership-based agricultural association, enlisted ECONorthwest (ECO) to analyze the economic contributions of the H-2A seasonal visa program in the state of Washington.

The number of certified H-2A workers in Washington has grown from 2,981 in 2010 to 12,081 in 2015, with 64 percent working in tree fruit crops during 2015.

Account for a growing share of workers harvesting apples, pears, and cherries
Represented $54,547 in output per worker in 2015, up from $39,598 in 2010
Increased their average production by 2.9 tons per worker between 2010 and 2015
Additionally, the results of an economic contributions analysis show that in 2015, the H-2A labor force for apples, pears, and cherries supported:
  • $619.0 million in total economic activity in Washington State
  • $111.5 million in total labor income for Washington State
  • 9,772 full-year equivalent (FYE) jobs in Washington State
The H-2A program, authorized by the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, seeks to relieve pressure on agricultural employers facing domestic labor shortages. Under the program, agricultural employers that have demonstrated a shortage of available and qualified domestic labor may legally hire foreign agricultural workers for seasonal or temporary work.

Washington State University (WSU) projects that farm labor will drop between 0.7 percent to 1.4 percent per year through 2038. For tree fruit, this is especially problematic given the sector’s heavy dependence on labor. For context, the WSU study finds that labor represents 17 percent of variable costs for all U.S. crops. In tree fruit, however, labor represents 48 percent of variable costs.

For access to the full report, click here.
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