April 18, 2017


El Salvadoran, Guatemalan H-2A workers hired


The Washington farm labor association known as WAFLA is recruiting its first El Salvadoran and Guatemalan H-2A-visa workers for Washington orchard work and Christmas bough harvests.


By Dan Wheat, Capital Press


PASCO, Wash. — About 50 H-2A visa guestworkers from El Salvador arrived in Pasco late last week, some to work for a tree fruit grower and some to work for WAFLA, formerly known as the Washington Farm Labor Association.

The workers may be the first foreign guestworkers to come to the U.S. from the small Latin American country, said Dan Fazio, WAFLA director.

“We get contacted monthly from agents and non-governmental organizations in Latin America looking for work for people,” Fazio said.

A cooperative of El Salvadoran farmers contacted WAFLA and sent a video of a training program for their workers, he said.

“We were impressed by that and went down and visited in January,” Fazio said.

He said he saw workers working hard on row crops for domestic consumption and sugar cane for export. Some land was owned by the cooperative, he said.

Fazio was concerned about worker quality given the country’s gang problems. WAFLA also is concerned that workers it recruits don’t abscond when they arrive to work on Pacific Northwest orchards and farms, he said.

The El Salvadoran cooperative is well organized and has a good data base, he said.

“I seems like the whole community is invested in the program, which puts pressure on workers to succeed,” he said.

The workers came on commercial flights to Pasco and some will work for a Columbia Basin tree fruit grower. The rest will work for WAFLA who will contract them out for grass seed and then cherry work in the basin, Fazio said.

WAFLA plans to bring in its first 100 Guatemalan H-2A workers in mid-June to work the summer and fall in Central Washington orchards and then cut Christmas tree boughs in Western Washington in November, Fazio said.

We had WAFLA members request them saying they’ve had Guatemalan domestic workers who don’t mind working in higher elevation, colder weather, he said.

WAFLA may hire more Guatemalan and El Salvadoran workers if these do well, Fazio said.

The vast majority of H-2A workers WAFLA hires are from Mexico. The farm labor association brought in 3,000 in the first three months of the year. That total will be 9,000 by the end of June and about 12,000 before the end of the year, Fazio said.

The statewide total of H-2A workers will be about 15,000, with Zirkle Fruit Co. hiring about 3,000 on its own directly from Mexico.

Most of the 15,000 are used in Washington apple, cherry and pear orchards for pruning, thinning and picking. The number has grown rapidly, from 814 in 2006. Oregon and Idaho each hire a few hundred H-2A workers annually.