New data from the Department of Labor continues to highlight U.S. farmers’ and ranchers’ increasing reliance on the H-2A program. During the second quarter of fiscal year 2019 (January, February and March), DOL processed 5,380 applications, certifying over 88,000 positions – topping the second quarter of 2018 by more than 8,000 positions. As seen in figure 1, the 10% increase in the second quarter of 2019, while significant, is the smallest quarter two increase over the last five years.
Nearly two-thirds of all position requests throughout the year occur in the second and third quarters. In 2018, the increase in the second quarter was fairly modest at 16% but was followed by a massive 29% increase in the number of requested positions in the third quarter. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true in 2019 - though the sharp decline in the share of applications that are being “processed timely” by DOL may slow the increase down.
DOL considers applications to be “processed timely” if a complete H-2A application is resolved 30 days before the start date of need. A complete H-2A application is defined as one containing all the documentation (e.g., housing inspection report, workers’ compensation, recruitment report) necessary for the Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s certifying officer to issue a final determination 30 days before the start date of need.
DOL’s recent quarterly report on H-2A statistics reveals that the share of applications processed timely fell to the lowest rate in the last five years – 77.5%. This is down from the rate of 92.6% that DOL achieved in the first quarter of 2019 and down from the 90.4% that was achieved during the second quarter of 2018. Figure 2 reveals this is the first time the share of applications processed in a timely manner has dipped below 90% over the last five years. The last time the timeliness rate dipped below 90% was during the second quarter of 2014, when the rate dropped to 84.3%.
The quarterly statistics also bring to light other interesting information, beyond the total number of positions and the timeliness of processing. The first is the steady increase in the number of applications being received. The 5,380 H-2A applications received in the second quarter of 2019 is the first time the number of applications exceeded 5,000. In fact, DOL nearly received more applications during Q2 of 2019 (5,380) than it did during the entire 2012 fiscal year (5,399). The annual increase in the number of applications received has exceeded 10% over each of the last six growing years. This would seem to indicate that more and more farms and ranches are turning to the H-2A program.
Perhaps the most interesting statistics on the H-2A program are revealed with a bit of simple arithmetic. We know from the data that both the number of certified positions and the number of applications is up, but we don’t know the size of farms that are requesting labor assistance. When we simply divide the number of certified positions by the number of applications, we find that the average number of positions requested in each application has remained pretty constant, as demonstrated in figure 4. This fact seems to suggest that a larger number of farms of all sizes are participating in the program.