Challenging Employer Control within the H-2A and H-2B Visa Programs

Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
ANNALS, AAPSS, 684, July 2019 241
DOI: 10.1177/0002716219856854
Control within
the H-2A and
H-2B Visa
856854ANN THE ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMYChallenging Employer Control within H-2A and H-2B Visa Programs
Migrants holding H-2A and H-2B visas—contracted
labor migrants—predominate in the new migration
system that has emerged between Mexico and the
United States. These migrants have been growing
numerically in an era when net Mexico-U.S. migration
has fallen to zero and undocumented migration is nega-
tive. These migrants are committed to contracts that
require them to work for one employer, at a specified
job, in a particular place, for a set duration of time, or
risk loss of legal status and deportation. When visas
were scarce, as they have been historically, this effec-
tively gave employers monopoly over their contracted
workers. This article describes the current system,
particularly with respect to the U.S. labor market and
the geography of both Mexico and the United States.
With more employers now seeking H-2A and H-2B
workers, the current moment may provide migrant
workers with greater leverage to challenge the domi-
nance of labor contractors and employers by moving
among firms, industries, markets, and states from one
contract to the next.
Keywords: labor migration; temporary workers; non-
immigrant visas; United States; Mexico
The H-2A and H-2B visas effectively consti-
tute the U.S. “guestworker” program for
“low-skilled” labor. These visas allow interna-
tional migrants to enter the United States to
work a temporary job for a pre-determined
employer under a pre-determined contract.
H-2A visas authorize migrants to work in agri-
culture, while H-2B visas authorize work in
seasonal jobs in other industries. When migrants
complete these jobs, the U.S. government
Bryan Moorefield is a PhD candidate in the Department
of Anthropology at Brown University and a predoctoral
trainee at Brown’s Population Studies and Training
Center. His dissertation examines Mexican citrus work-
ers in the H-2A temporary worker program in the state
of Florida based on extensive fieldwork done throughout
Mexico and the southern United States.

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