Farmers in the United States rely heavily on the work of migrant farm workers. A migrant farm worker is known to work around a region or country as he or she completes specific crop seasons. Many migrant workers come from outside of the country, and they can work here with certain visas. Though our country has relied heavily on migrant farmers for quite some time, the rights of these workers tend to change and reflect the politics of the current state of the nation. Regardless of one's attitude on the topic, there are laws, applications, and contracts involved that need to be upheld in the court of law.
Where are the Major Farming Communities in Florida?
Our major farming communities can be found in western Palm Beach Bounty in cities like Belle Glade and Pahokee. Additionally, we have a major farming community in Hendry County with the city of Clewiston. Florida produces about two-thirds of the nation's oranges, and is also a major producer of sugarcane and corn.
How Big is Florida's Migrant Population?
Florida is one of three sending states for migrants. The other two states are Texas and California. A sending state is basically an area that has one of the longest growing seasons in the nation, and it serves as a home base for migrant families. The family of a migrant farmer may stay put in the home state while the farmer moves to a different area to work a certain seasonal crop.
For single migrant farmers, there are licensed migrant farmworker housing options. There are migrant labor camps that provide shelter, or one has the option to live in migrant residential housing. Migrant residential housing is inspected about twice a year by the county health inspectors.
In 2017, Florida was reported to lead the nation in H-2A visa positions, which means we had about 16% of the migrant farm positions in the United States. In 2018, we had about one-fourth of the positions. Those numbers continue to increase because the need for this type of work increases along with a decrease in willing domestic workers.
What is a H-2A Temporary Visa?
A H-2A temporary visa is a work visa that is good for up to 10 months. However, this type of visa does not lead to citizenship at all. Once the 10 months are up, you must return to your home country. For most migrant farmers in Florida, H-2A applications are submitted by those in Mexico, Central America, and, up until recently, Haiti. In January of 2018, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that H-2A applications were no longer being accepted by Haitians due to “high levels of fraud and abuse.”
Florida leads the United States in H-2A work positions. Several owners of harvesting and packaging companies admit that they would be out of business without H-2A applications simply because domestic workers are not as enthusiastic to apply for this kind of work in the kind of conditions caused by Florida weather. For these employers, H-2A applications are the easiest and most legal way to get the work done.
What is the Fair Labor Standards Act?
The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes norms on components like minimum wage, record keeping, and child labor. When it comes to migrant workers, this act requires farming recruiters to recruit without requiring additional fees. This has been a regular problem for farmers who employ migrant workers on H-2A visas because the system can be abused by recruiters. Employers and recruiters can easily cheat the system because they have the upper hand in the program.
However, a federal case was brought against the Sorrells Brothers Packing Company in Arcadia, Florida for this very reason. Migrant workers claimed they were brought in under extensive recruiting fees and that they were later denied sufficient wages for their work. Though the company denied the claims, they ultimately settled in 2008 for about $600,000.
What To Do if I'm a Migrant Farmer and Need Legal Help
If you are a migrant worker in Florida and in need of legal assistance, reach out to us today at Keller, Melchiorre, and Walsh to go over your situation and concerns. We are more than happy to sit down with you for a consultation to discuss your needs. No matter your country of citizenship, your rights as a human matter. If you have been involved in an accident or legal dispute of any sort, please contact us today. We assure you that your case is not the first of its type. When it comes to legal matters, you should always consult a legal professional before giving up on the case. Do not take the word of your boss or coworkers as the final say for any legal situation. Instead, give us a call today so that we can help you determine your next steps to getting the justice you deserve.