Washington State Farmers Growing Reliance On Cheap Labor

The number of applications for agricultural worker visas in the State of Washington is rapidly increasing. H-2A applications have surged in the state by more than 1,000 percent in the past ten years. Farmers claim this is because there isn’t enough labor in the United States to supply their farms.

“The American consumer has to answer one question,” said farm owner Rob Valicoff, according to UPI. “Do you want foreign workers producing your food in America, or do you want food that’s just foreign?”

Mr. Valicoff ignores one important question that he and other farmers should be answering. Why are Americans declining to work on your farms?

Americans look for jobs that will pay them enough to support themselves and their families. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, Washington has one of the highest costs of living outside of the Northeast. Adults need to earn at least $17 per hour to support the average family. However, farmhands make much less than that in the state.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average crop farmhand in Washington earns $29,000 annually. That is about $13.94 per hour, which isn’t nearly enough to support a family. However, because this non-market wage is still much better than what most foreign workers can earn in their home countries, they are eager to accept these wages. Furthermore, by law, H-2A workers must work for the farmers who brought them to the U.S. or face deportation.

That means that, unlike American laborers, foreign farm employees can’t compete in the free market. As a result, farmers using the H-2A program have a captive pool of laborers. They never have to worry about losing foreign workers to an employer who pays more or offers better conditions. And they don’t have to worry about paying a competitive wage in order to retain workers.

The result is that importing foreign farm labor undercuts the wage market in the agricultural sector. Farmhands in the Evergreen State earn well-below the living wage because of this, and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. Why would farmers stop using a program that subsidizes wages by furnishing cheap, imported labor? Farmers claim they can’t find enough American workers, but the real problem is that they simply don’t want to pay a fair market wage. Foreign agricultural workers allow farmers to fill their coffers at the expense of potential American labor.

About Author


Casey joined FAIR in 2018. He assists the research team with projects and writes for FAIR’S website. He previously spent a year working in journalism in Washington, D.C. He graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in Journalism in 2017.


  1. avatar

    Be honest folks and call it what it IS !
    Washington isn’t reliant on cheap labor,
    They are reliant on cheap “illegal” labor.
    Duh.. An ICE agent could spend his Carrera chasing illegals up and down 97.

    • avatar

      Foreign labor is employer indentured, both cheap and captive.
      If it were _only_ about money, they’d lowball locals.
      As non-living wage, citizens a) can’t afford to work there and b) in abusive work terms, will leave.
      Rather than employers fix their wage and work terms, they chose indentured, and our fed sees to it that the supply is provided, by not enforcing the law.
      Elite OWN Washington, DC.

  2. avatar

    A good picker can make well north of $20 an hour. Also, you can’t find people from this country to do farm work. They think it’s too hard. Sad you don’t know the whole story before ypu write these articles.

  3. avatar

    Jamaicans used to come to Florida for 2 or 3 months in the spring to cut sugar cane and then returned home where they could basically live the rest of the year on what they earned. Then some advocate lawyers urged the workers to sue for wage violations and inadequate housing. So the growers said guess what, we are going to mechanized cutting. Farmers can mechanize a lot of jobs and pay decent money for those they can’t.

    Last night Tucker Carlson revealed a lengthy email initially written by a senior Google exec, Eliana Murillo, the day after the election and then sent to various other company executives. In it she wrote of a, her words, “silent donation” to the Clinton campaign.

    “We also supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states {silent donation}.” “After all these efforts and what we thought was positive momentum toward change the results are not what we expected at all.”

    What she wrote, silent donation, is clearly an admission of an illegal contribution, as it was directed toward people who were going to vote overwhelmingly for Hillary in “key states”. Naturally the mainstream media has ignored this obvious bias because it only confirms everything Trump and the Republicans have been saying forever. Which is, the big tech companies are against them.

  4. avatar

    We have epidemic levels of homelessness. Migrants get wages and housing. Sounds like problem solved now make it happen

  5. avatar

    Studies of food costs done by reputable analysts show that direct farm labor accounts for but a single-digit percentage of supermarket prices. IOW, growers could pay workers TWICE as much and consumer prices would only increase 10% or less. This is less than natural seasonal variations in the prices for most types of produce. If there are any “crops rotting in the fields” it’s because growers profits are scarcely limited by the availability of crop land or labor, but by the demands of distributors and supermarket chains.

  6. avatar

    This may factor in as to why I am often trolled by people from Washington State when I support building the wall. I live near the border and it is NOT farm help or families coming through by me, it armed men.

  7. avatar
    Ronald marquette on

    H2a workers come to America and work for maybe a season than they go to other states to work.They never leave ,they get on wefare,food stamps,housing, education than they have anchor babies.They never return to their country.End the visa process pay .And pay Americans a higher wage.American have done the work in the past and they will do it again.