In Miami Valley, Agricultural Businesses Struggle With Visa Worker Shortage | WOSU Radio

In Miami Valley, Agricultural Businesses Struggle With Visa Worker Shortage

Dec 19, 2017

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers visa program allows seasonal immigrants to legally work in the United States. Demand for H-2A visa workers is up dramatically nationwide, as many farms have had trouble finding enough employees to fill open jobs.  

But there are signs that increasing employer demand for the visa program is making it tougher to find enough temporary workers in some parts of Ohio’s Miami Valley. 

Between 2014 and 2017, the population of visa farmworkers in Clark County dropped by more than half, according to data provided by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.  

Landscaping company owner Robert Siebenthaler says he used to try to hire workers through the H-2A visa program, but he found the process too time-consuming, costly and ineffective.

Now, Siebenthaler, who owns Siebenthaler's garden center, says he seeks workers for his company's locations in Beavercreek and Centerville through Craigslist or word of mouth instead.

“We had a number of years where we wanted five or 10 people [through the H-2A visa program] and didn’t get any,” he says. “So, at some point, after spending legal fees and application fees and not getting anybody to show for it, we said that’s not a real good opportunity.”

Siebenthaler's pays landscaping crew members between $10 and $19 per hour, according to the company's website. U.S. Department of Labor requires employers looking to find workers through the program to "have initially attempted to find U.S. workers to fill these jobs." Wages are agreed upon in advance.

The U.S. government does not technically consider workers immigrants, and the program does not lead to citizenship. The program dates back more than two decades and was designed to help employers fill empty jobs.

Some critics have debated whether the H-2A visa and other temporary-worker programs are still adequate to meet many agricultural businesses' needs.

Alfredo Huerta, an agronomist and associate professor of Biology at Miami University, says one reason that such a large portion of agricultural work in the U.S. depends on the labor of immigrants – many of them undocumented – is that many native-born Americans don’t want to work under the conditions many agricultural workers face.

"A lot of these jobs are migrant-work jobs," Huerta says. “So, that means you’re moving from one place to the next, one month here, another month there. You’re moving across the United States, and most people don’t want to live their life that way.”