The Foreign Farmworker (H-2A) Program Should Be Used to Ease the Pressures at Our Southern Border

Part 2 of 6: Selection of workers

By David North on June 24, 2019

In the first posting of this series, we argued that the H-2A program for alien farmworkers should be reshaped so that it can be used to ease the pressure on our Southern border. We suggested that, to the extent possible, alien farmworkers be recruited from the Northern Triangle of Central America (i.e., from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras) rather than continuing the current system under which agricultural employers are allowed to recruit workers of their choice from just about any place on the planet.

The employers would continue to choose the workers they want, but that choice would be limited in that, initially, they would have to draw at least 25 percent of their work force from the Northern Triangle, and in the following year, at least 50 percent of it from these three nations.

But how do you design a system that will largely recruit low-income farm workers from these stressed areas and who are likely to go home at the end of the season, rather than converting themselves into illegal alien status here in the States? There are two sets of techniques to be used.

Hiring Non-Central-American Workers

The first, and easier, situation, involves workers already in the H-2A program who are from Mexico, Jamaica, and other traditional labor sources. Employers will be told that if they hire workers from places other than the Northern Triangle, at least 75 percent of those workers must have worked in the United States in the past, have had no immigration violations, and have returned to the home country at least once from H-2A (or H-2B) assignments. There are large numbers of such workers in Mexico, for example. (The H-2B program is for unskilled, non-agricultural labor.)

Hiring Workers from the Northern Triangle.

We suggest that the potential farm workers from these three, crucial countries fall into five categories:

Class A. A relative handful of potential H-2A workers have worked in the United States in either the H-2A or the H-2B program, and have returned to their homelands. There were 4,415 visas issued to H-2As in 2018, from these countries, and 4,707 visas for H-2Bs, according to State Department statistics. Most of these were for people from Guatemala. To the extent that they returned to the homelands after some time in the United States they should be given the highest priority in the next round of H-2A hiring.

Class B. These are workers who do not have the characteristics of Classes D and E (as outlined below) and are owners of dwellings or small farms and are married and/or have children in the Northern Triangle; most of their work history has been agricultural, and they have no more than a high school education.

Class C. This, the largest class, consists of people who do not have all of the (positive) characteristics of Class B, but cannot be put into Classes D and E.

Class D. These are workers who have either spouses or parents in the United States or have children or siblings there. This is a large population, but not as big as Class C.

Class E. These are known violators of the U.S. immigration law, and those with criminal records in either Central America or the United States.

Perhaps in the first year or two of operations, U.S.-funded persons would be hired to sort out potential Class B workers, and then employers would be told that at least 50 percent of their hiring in Central America must be from among Classes A and B. Classes D and E would be excluded from the program.

In future years, when members of Class A would, one hopes, be much larger, these hiring restrictions would be less inconvenient to the U.S. growers.


The United States should fund some graduate-level research, preferably hiring the scholars locally, to determine, after the first full year of these more extensive H-2A programs in Central America, who returned to the homeland and who stayed in the United States. To what extent did the variables in Class B prove predictive? Were H-2A workers from the high-crime provinces in Central America more or less likely to return home than those from safer provinces? (Murder rates are available province-by-province in these countries, and they differ markedly.)

That research might also relate to a variable not previously mentioned in CIS postings, and that is linguistic abilities.

My sense is that H-2A workers with good English would be the most likely to stay in the United States, followed by those with fluent Spanish, while those who speak little more than their indigenous language (generally a version of Mayan) would be the most likely to return to Central America. A little research money would have to be spent to find out, and the record-keeping on the workers selected to come to the United States would need to be thorough enough to give the researchers the data they need.


The added recruitment in Central America, and some of the added requirements of such a program would, of course, cost a bit of money and would irritate the growers, but if we are going to use one part of the immigration system to help solve the problems in another part of it, we have to be willing to spend some money, and to make the H-2A a little less attractive to those who have profited so handsomely from it over the years.

The trade-offs would be well worth it.