Ripe for Reform: Abuse of Agricultural Workers in the H-2A Visa Program exposes the extensive labor abuses in the rapidly growing guestworker program that expanded to a record 256,677 job certifications in FY 2019.
Based on in-depth interviews with 100 workers across Mexico who came to the U.S. on these visas in the last four years, it documents discrimination, sexual harassment, wage theft, and health and safety violations by their employers — and a startling lack of recourse for workers.
It also analyzes how in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s systemic flaws exacerbate workers’ vulnerability to the virus.
Descended from early 20th century U.S. agricultural labor practices, the H-2A program’s shortcomings combine the historical exclusion of farmworkers from federal labor protections (rooted in racist Jim Crow policies) with lax federal oversight and worker coercion.
Ripe for Reform recommends both incremental steps, including legislative and regulatory changes, to improve the program as well as a fundamentally re-imagined model that would prioritize the human rights of H-2A workers and their families and elevate labor standards for all workers.