Agriculture Labor Issues

Background

NPPC supports visa system reform that provides agricultural employers with sustained access to year-round labor and a pathway to legal status for workers with agricultural experience already in the United States.

 

H-2A visa expansion to year-round labor is needed to ensure that U.S. livestock agriculture can compete globally and continue to provide safe and affordable pork to Americans and consumers worldwide.

 

NPPC also supports the inclusion of packing plant workers as agricultural labor.

NPPC’s Position

The U.S. pork industry suffers from a severe labor shortage, negatively impacting farms and processing plants. This challenge undermines a critical economic sector that in recent years has driven employment and wage growth faster than the overall economy and is key to prosperity in rural America. The U.S. pork industry is largely dependent on foreign-born workers, but current visa programs fail to meet the workforce needs of U.S. pork producers and other year-round livestock farmers.

The H-2A visa program, created in 1987 under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, allows foreign nationals entry into the United States for temporary or seasonal agricultural work for up to 10 months. The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division is responsible for auditing and inspecting H-2A employers to ensure guest workers are not exploited. Employers must provide H-2A guest workers with inbound and outbound transportation, housing, and meals. Additionally, to be eligible for the H-2A program, employers must demonstrate a lack of U.S. workers able, willing and qualified for the jobs.

Because it was designed for seasonal agriculture, the H-2A visa program can’t meet the year-round workforce needs of livestock farmers. Without visa reform, U.S. pork production will be constrained, leading to higher food prices for consumers. Despite significantly paying above local prevailing wage rates, the labor shortage could shut down hog farms and packing plants and cause serious financial harm to the communities in which they operate.

In addition to available workers outside of the United States, experienced foreign-born agricultural workers are often already in U.S. communities but unemployable because of their immigration status. By extending multi-year status to those already in rural America, farms and packing plants may be able to cover some of the labor shortage with accessible and experienced labor without the costs associated with bringing overseas workers.

It’s important to note that U.S. citizens will not fill U.S. pork and other livestock production jobs because of decreases in rural population growth. Using a study from USDA’s Economic Research Service, economists with Iowa State University determined that native-born workers and permanent residents currently cannot offset the need for foreign-born labor.

Fast Facts

0.3%

The percentage that hog farm employment fell from 2019 to 2020 despite growing labor needs and rising average weekly wages, which increased by 5.7%.

8 of 10

of the top hog-producing states have unemployment rates below 4%, well below the national rate.

Compared with urban counties, rural counties’ labor markets are tighter because of declining populations and rising ages.

Related Resources

NPPC Renews Call for Labor Solutions, Other Essential Support for Pork Production Continuity

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 18, 2020 – The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) renewed its call for government…