Foreign farm workers in the U.S. are said to earn even less than before.
They do the hard work that Americans no longer want to do: foreign farm workers. US President Donald Trump has used the corona pandemic to almost completely reduce labor migration to the country – with one exception: farm workers. Republican MPs from rural constituencies had campaigned for this. In order to protect themselves from possible legal processes and, if necessary, to be able to shirk responsibility, many US farmers are now employing their harvest helpers through subcontractors who are recruiting and procuring the relevant visas. The U.S. Department of Labor issued 257,000 temporary residence permits through the H-2A program in 2019 – more than twice as many as in 2014. For the first time, more farm workers – now classified as “systemically important” – came as “highly qualified”. In July Trump signed a program with Guatemala – the thrust: fewer asylum seekers, more “farm workers”.
They are only allowed to work for the entrepreneur who applied for their visa and are therefore delivered to him. Media reports showed catastrophic conditions in the housing of workers – farmers or subcontractors are obliged to do so – and constant violations of health and safety regulations. Those who have no papers at all – around half of the 2.4 million farm workers in the country are estimated to be migrants without a residence permit – are at risk of deportation because the US government and, above all, Republican-controlled states are cracking down on “illegals”. This increases the vulnerability to exploitation.
Wages are repeatedly refused, for example. The U.S. Department of Labor intervened in 2019 and paid 5000 workers a salary. But trade unionists and farm worker organizations expect a large number of unreported cases of violations of labor rights.
The lack of protective equipment initially caused corona outbreaks in meat factories, now with the start of the labor-intensive harvest in the fields, there are many new infections among farm workers. Depending on the region, the H-2A program officially prescribes an hourly wage between $ 11 and $ 15. The government wants to cut this even further.