Immigrants, Robots, and the American Farmer

Farmers are finding new ways to bring in their crops


H-2A visa requests and certifications from fiscal year 2008 until fiscal year 2019.

Note: The 2019 Fiscal Year data includes only from October 2018 until June 30. The dip, as shown, may not be a meaningful decrease. Sources: Office of Foreign Labor Certification data taken from 2010 Annual Report2013 Annual Report2017 Fiscal Year Selected Statistics2018 Fiscal Year Selected Statistics2019 Fiscal Year Selected Statistics.


How the H-2A Visa Program Works

There are several requirements companies must meet to qualify for H-2A visas. For example, before US companies can hire immigrant workers, they must recruit domestic workers and document those efforts. If no domestic workers apply for those positions, the employer must prove that hiring workers through the program doesn’t harm US workers in the same industry. This is usually done through paying an “adverse wage rate,” which is paying H-2A workers a minimum wage set by the Department of Labor that is more than the minimum amount that other employers are held to.


Why not automate now?

Employers, even non-dairy farmers, think that the H-2A visa program is expensive and unwieldy to navigate correctly. The system is designed to be costly, at least in some ways, as a protection for US workers. That’s the explicit logic behind the adverse effect wage rate requirement, after all.


Embracing immigration and automation

It’s more likely that efforts to restrict the supply of immigrant workers to protect US workers will speed up the efforts to adopt robots than protect those workers. In response, the H-2A visa program should be reformed to make it simpler for companies to apply as well as adapted to make it better fit the needs of the agriculture industry. For example, by allowing non-seasonal applications to accommodate dairy farmers.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.

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