North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation in the number of migrant farmworkers, after California, Texas, Washington, Florida, and Oregon, according to the most recent study performed for the federal migrant health program (3).
This same study estimated that approximately 150,000 migrant farmworkers and their dependents are present in North Carolina each growing season.
The 2005 National Agricultural Workers Survey of the U.S. Department of Labor, the most recent authoritative sampling of farmworkers nationally, found the following characteristics apply to farmworkers nationally (4):
- Most are younger than 31
- 80% are male
- Most have spouses or children who remain in their home countries
- 75% were born in Mexico
- 53% are undocumented, 25% are U.S. citizens, and 21% are legal permanent residents
- Average annual income for a farmworker family of four of is about $16,000
- 13% have completed high school, and the median highest grade completed is the 6th
These same characteristics are generally true for North Carolina’s migrant farmworkers, however North Carolina agriculture also employs many non-immigrant H-2A workers from Mexico (5).
H-2A workers are admitted to the United States on special seasonal visas which allow them to work only for the employer who filed the petition for their visas. In addition, workers from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are employed in North Carolina planting trees and doing other reforestation tasks on similar seasonal visas, called H-2B visas. The Farmworker Unit estimates between 6% and 10% of migrant farmworkers in North Carolina are either H-2A farmworkers or H-2B forestry workers.
Another difference for North Carolina farmworkers is that farmworkers on the East Coast tend to earn about 35% less than the national average (6). Nearly five out of ten farmworker households in North Carolina cannot afford enough food for their families (7).