What is an H2-A visa? How migrant workers are able to legally work in Florida

Maitland workers who recently faced wrongful accusations from local leaders are here under H-2A visas

Apopka nursery: Migrant workers are legal, needed

ORLANDO, Fla. – A discussion about temporary work visas recently surfaced following false allegations Monday implying migrants staying at a Maitland hotel were illegal immigrants.

The legal farmworkers, who State Rep. Anthony Sabatini and other protestors accused of being in the country illegally, are all contracted under H-2A visas.

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This is a temporary agricultural visa program created by the federal government “to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work including, but not limited to, planting, cultivating, or harvesting labor,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

Data collected by the U.S. Department of State shows the number of people in the country on this particular visa has gradually increased over the years, with just under 215,000 workers under this legal contract in 2020. That’s nearly 80,000 more visa recipients than in 2016.

The program allows for both seasonal work, restricted to certain times of year tied to a particular event or growing pattern, and temporary work, which lasts no longer than a year. It was started to compensate for an insufficient number of domestic workers, especially in Florida citrus groves.

The Maitland migrants are working at Dewar Nurseries in Apopka for up to 120 days, according to a statement issued by the company’s attorneys:

“The workers employed by Dewar Nurseries who reside at the Extended Stay Hotel in Maitland are here in the United States under the H2A Visa program. This is a long-standing, 100-percent legitimate program that allows our companies to hire the workers we need to deliver the best-quality products to our customers. Any suggestion to the contrary is mistaken.”

The Farmworker Association of Florida also said the guestworker program, under which these workers are a part of, has been something the nation’s agricultural industry has depended on for decades:

“We know, from the COVID pandemic, that farmworkers are essential workers, whose work is deemed critical and indispensable to the nation’s economy and to our society. Local growers and agricultural businesses depend on their work to produce the products that we all rely on. The workers who arrived yesterday are doing the hard and difficult work for long hours each day to keep our thriving vegetable crops, citrus and ornamental plant industries viable and productive.”

A spokesperson for the association added that Apopka, where the visa recipients are working, is known as “The Indoor Foliage Capital of the World” and the area often depends on H-2A seasonal workers when temperatures drop and threaten the state’s agricultural products.

Dewar Nurseries and the The Farmworker Association of Florida issued the statements after Sabatini tweeted the following:

Sabatini since told News 6 on Tuesday he “has no doubt” that if the Mayor of Apopka and Dewar Nurseries say the workers are legally employed, then “they are,” but he is still requesting to see the visas and refuses to delete his tweet.

Gov. Ron DeSantis also commented on the incident at a news briefing in Palm Beach County Monday afternoon, saying that if the group is here on farmworker visas, then there is nothing wrong, but he also has a team investigating the claims.

Employers interested in recruiting visa applicants and U.S. workers can do so through their State Workforce Agency and must employ those they hire for up to 50% of the work period assigned.

According to the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, there is high demand for farm workers in the state.

“Without an H-2A workforce, American food security is at risk,” said Christina Morton, the association’s director of communications. “We would be a country that would have to rely on other countries to supply fresh fruits and vegetables needed during the winter months because the domestic workforce is just not there.”

In 2020, about 39,000 H-2A visas were approved through the Department of Labor.

“The H-2A program is incredibly important to Florida agriculture, in fact, Florida is the largest user of the H-2A program in the country,” Morton said. “American farmers have been facing an unprecedented domestic labor shortage even before the pandemic.”

For more information on how to apply for an H-2A visa, click here.