Below are reflections of our startup journey participating in the Floodgate Reactor Program. We have strong opinions, loosely held and while these opinions reflect our current state of mind and understanding of the world might change as we continue our entrepreneurial journeys.


H-2A is a US government program that allows farmers to bring foreign seasonal agricultural labor to the US. To learn more about the H-2A program, check out our other blog posts or the link here.

The program brings in hundreds of thousands of workers each year, and it allows farmers to get experienced foreign labor and farm workers to get paid more than they would in their native country. However, the program is far from perfect and there are many problems with the program for both farms and farmworkers.

Problems for Farmers

For farmers, the H-2A program is difficult to use and contains many hurdles to get foreign labor. Some of these problems include the paperwork, recruiting workers, providing housing and transportation, and competing with farms that use illegal labor.

Completing the paperwork for hiring H-2A workers involves communicating with four government agencies and the whole process takes months. This complex process requires most farms to use a lawyer to help them with the paperwork, or use a preparer, which is a company that does the paperwork for you and typically helps with recruiting as well. Most attorneys and preparers also charge the same price every year to do the paperwork, even though most of the forms are the same. We believe that using technology to automate the paperwork and fill out forms year-over-year could greatly reduce the complexity of H-2A paperwork.

Another problem for farmers is recruiting foreign workers. Although there are many workers who are interested in coming to the US to work, it is difficult to contact them since they are in a foreign country and often don’t speak English. Furthermore, farmers want workers that have worked on farms before and ideally are familiar with the crop that they grow. Usually, farms will use recruiters to find workers. However, some recruiters are involved in shady practices and from conversations we have had with farmers, the workers the recruiters recommend are not always good. One farmer we talked to had to go to rural Mexico with her husband to find workers. She went into a grocery store, asked to use the P.A. system, then announced that she was interested in hiring people to work in the US. She then manually wrote down the names of people that came up to her, and ended up hiring them for her farm. This story illustrates the difficulties of hiring workers and the lengths that farmers will go to in order to find the right workers.

Farmers also have to spend lots of time and money to get housing and provide transportation for H-2A workers. A requirement for the H-2A program is that the farmer needs to provide housing for the workers as well as transportation to the farm in the US. Providing adequate housing is a difficult task, and was consistently one of the most difficult aspects of the program from conversations we had with farmers. In addition to building housing being expensive, there are often challenges with state and county codes that make building houses legally very difficult.

Lastly, a challenge for farmers that use the H-2A program is competing with farms that hire illegal immigrants. Undocumented immigrants are estimated to make up 50% of the farmworkers on US farms (1). Because of the costs associated with the H-2A program, including high wages and providing free housing and transportation, using the H-2A program is more expensive than hiring undocumented workers. Therefore, farmers that use legal immigration lose a competitive edge compared to farmers that hire undocumented workers. By making the H-2A program easier and cheaper, as well as making paths for undocumented workers to obtain legal status, farmers will likely increasingly use legal labor.

Problems for Farmworkers

For farmworkers, the H-2A program is far from perfect and they face a variety of challenges, including dealing with sketchy recruiters, having poor working and housing conditions, and the difficulty of changing employers.

Most H-2A workers find jobs in the US through a recruiter in Mexico or the US. The recruiters connect labor to farms that are looking to hire workers. Due to the dependence of farmworkers on recruiters and the eagerness of foreign workers to find jobs in the US, there is a host of exploitative practices that recruiters engage in. Some recruiters are fraudulent, advertising jobs that don’t exist. Oftentimes, migrant workers will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to recruiters for fictitious jobs (2). There is not an effective system to prevent this, so it happens regularly. Furthermore, the rules of the H-2A program clearly state that recruiters are not allowed to charge migrant workers any fees. However, according to a study done by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), over 25% of workers pay recruitment fees as high as $$$4,500 (3). Workers often have to take out loans to pay these fees, resulting in them being less free to leave an abusive environment in the US. Lastly, recruiters oftentimes engage in discriminatory practices. Recruiters favor men over women and rarely hire older adults (2). This is illegal according to US law, however since many recruiters operate outside of the US, it is a legal gray area.

Farmworkers also are often subject to poor working and housing conditions. According to a study done by CDM, 45% of H-2A workers live in overcrowded or unsanitary housing, 35% do not have the necessary safety equipment, and 27% did not receive adequate training (3). From the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division compliance data, there are over 130,000 recorded H-2A violations against farmers for not following the rules (4). Due to these violations, farmers have paid over 35 million dollars in back wages to employees and over 44 million in civil monetary penalties. To search this data in a user-friendly way, you can look at Furthermore, sexual harrassment and verbal abuse are common for H-2A workers (3).

Lastly, it is difficult for H-2A workers to change employers. The H-2A visa is tied to a single employer, which leaves them vulnerable for abuse and unwilling to challenge unfair practices (5). H-2A workers are working in a foreign country and often don’t speak English. By making it easier to change employers if the farmworker is not happy with their current employer, it would reduce abuse and malpractice.


Overall, this blog post has detailed some of the problems with the H-2A program from the perspective of the farmer as well as the worker. We believe that more transparency and resources would help.