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Everything a farmer needs to know about migrant farm workers

WorkHorse Hub December 19, 2018

It’s no secret that finding labor for your farm can be a challenge. Labor-intensive products, including fruits and vegetables, are dependent on reliable labor that must be available during the short window of time when products need to be harvested.


Many farmers utilize migrant farm workers as a quick and competent labor source. Migrant farm workers are efficient, industrious, and focused on their jobs. In the past over 3 million migrants and seasonal farm workers have supported agriculture, a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada and the United States.


Introduction to migrant farm workers

First, let’s start with the definitions. Migrant farm workers move from their permanent residence to seek employment at a farm or other agricultural business. Examples of migrant farm workers are those hired to harvest fruits and vegetables.


In the past, the majority of migrant farm workers have come from Mexico and the Caribbean and this trend continues. Other migrant farm workers come from Central and South America.


A farm employs seasonal farm workers temporarily, but these employees don’t leave their permanent residence to work on the farm. Seasonal employees generally have other sources of income or employment. An example is a farm hiring seasonal employees from their town to drive trucks during the corn harvest.


In the 1980s, agriculture began seeing a shift in labor as fewer citizens and local residents were willing to work on farms. From 1990 to 1995 the percent of farm workers in the US who were citizens dropped from 42% to 32%.


While residents don’t want to work in the fields, they do want a local food supply. In Salinas Valley, California, there are 1.4 million acres of crops, and migrant farm workers do 70% of the harvest. Canada has fewer migrant workers, at 23% of the 2.3 million agricultural employees.


Why using migrant farm labor is good

Migrant farm workers usually perform labor that many others do not want to do. They work long, hard hours to earn a paycheck for their families. For farmers, migrant farm labor provides a steady and reliable employee source ensuring the farm will be able to harvest and sell their crops, and not face spoiled crops, or worse yet, bankruptcy.


Human labor is needed to harvest fruits and vegetables and avoid bruising the products, or on dairy farms to milk cows two to three times per day. It’s imperative that workers show up when they are supposed to and are conscientious in completing the work.


Many migrant farm workers move from one farm to another, harvesting different types of crops as demand for labor peaks in each sector of agriculture. They return home in the winter, after completing their work for the year or season.


Best ways to find migrant labor

Programs are in place to connect migrant workers and farms. Some farms rely on recruiters, or have long-standing relationships with their workers, who return to the same farms year after year.


Several government programs help connect farms to migrant workers in Canada and the U.S. While navigating government programs can be challenging, workers who utilize the programs receive all of the necessary visas and paperwork. These options for finding migrant labor aren’t viable for all farms though.


WorkHorse Hub understands the challenges that farmers face in finding migrant labor. We created a category on our site for contract or seasonal work. Here, you can post your short-term jobs, and potential employees can easily find your job and apply.


The key to finding migrant labor is to start early. Knowing your farm’s labor needs and getting ahead of the recruiting process can help identify workers before they are needed. Including a detailed job description on WorkHorse Hub with experience required, and length of time for the position will help you find labor faster.


Migrant labor in Canada vs. U.S.

Government programs for finding migrant labor in Canada and the U.S. vary slightly. Each country has set up their own process that farmers must adhere to.


In Canada, there is a Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which has three work authorization portals. These are the Labor Market Impact Assessment, the International Mobility Program, and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. Most migrant labor in Canada is part of the International Mobility Program, and this includes international students.


Also, Canada offers the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) which allows farmers, and employers more generally, to hire temporary foreign workers when Canadians and permanent residents are unavailable for work.


Canada has fewer categories for admission of migrant labor, but a much larger workforce of foreign-born employees. In Canada, approximately 2% of immigrants are on guest permits, for a total of 321,000 workers, compared to 1% in the U.S.


Seasonal agricultural visas are available for migrant labor to travel to the United States. These are called H-2A visas, and many farms use recruiters to find H-2A workers. The U.S. has around 200,000 migrant workers on H2-A guest visas every year. H-2B visas are another category used by some farms.



Migrant farm workers allow citizens of Canada and the U.S. to enjoy a safe and abundant local food supply. Agriculture depends on migrant farm workers, but finding them doesn’t need to be another chore for you.


Experts understand the critical role that migrant farm workers play in our food chain. It will take more time to streamline policies in Canada and the U.S. for migrant labor and create a more efficient process. However, there are many other resources available for farmers to help simplify the labor search.

At WorkHorse Hub we believe that finding farm workers should be faster and easier. We’re here to help find your match made in human resources heaven.

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