Responsible recruitment practices play a crucial role in workers’ experiences with migration programs. However, workers themselves are not always heard and consulted when stakeholder groups try to improve these practices. The conversation around responsible recruitment must include worker voices, especially in seasonal agricultural programs. Their concerns, expectations, and ideas about recruitment are key to finding solutions that improve and provide access to these programs to more workers from new corridors.

The conversation around responsible recruitment revolves especially around workers in the seasonal agricultural programs, whose concerns, expectations, and ideas about recruitment are key to finding solutions to improving and providing access to these schemes to more workers from new corridors.

Therefore, the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) created “The IRÉ Project: How Mexican workers define ideal recruitment and recruitment priorities,” with the goal of gathering insight into how farm workers recruited for jobs on fruit and vegetable farms in the U.S., Canada and Mexico would re-design the recruitment experience. The project sheds light on how these seasonal workers think about “responsible recruitment” and what matters to them most. Resourced and supported by the EFI and implemented by Cierto Global and &Wider, the project allows interested organizations and stakeholders to learn how workers define ideal recruitment and what they consider “ethical” and “fair.” The final report revealed three priority areas that workers see as a key part of a responsible recruitment experience:

  1. Clarity
  2. Community
  3. Safety from health and financial risks – including extractive fees, hidden costs, and threats and exploitative promises by employers

These findings are in line with what the LaMP team learned from prospective and returning workers under the U.S. agricultural seasonal worker program, or H-2A, who provided us with feedback during our recent trips to Mexico and Guatemala.

Transparent and comprehensive information is the number one priority for workers when it comes to recruitment. Above other factors, like no fees, simplified paperwork or a choice in worksite destination, workers desire full and transparent access to information pertaining to the recruitment process, employer, worksite destination, and all associated costs. Migration is a household economic decision, so having clarity around the terms of migration allows households to make smart decisions and take calculated risks. Ensuring that workers have full knowledge to make informed decisions is a critical element for workers’ agency and dignity.

Having some kind of physical presence in the community was also highlighted as an important part of the recruitment experience. Workers expressed that when recruiters have a physical presence in their community, for example in the form of organizing interviews or orientations there, the process feels safer or ‘more official.’ One CIERTO-recruited worker said, “we know that if anything goes wrong or we need information, we can go to the church [where CIERTO holds community gatherings and recruitment events] and they can help us get in contact with CIERTO, almost as if they had a physical presence in our community.”
While the findings above were expected based on the IRÉ Project findings, the H-2A workers LaMP consulted also shared additional information.

Another important finding for LaMP is that the use of the internet and technology to find or vet recruiters and job opportunities is not widespread among the H-2A workers. As LaMP continues to design solutions to improve responsible recruitment, we want to understand how tools that rely on technology will be received and utilized by workers. For the workers we talked to, not everyone had access to technology resources or the internet, and even for those who did, the internet was not a primary source of information on H-2A opportunities. In the case of Facebook, it is accessible and somewhat used, but also considered not trustworthy. This means that workers in this community might be less susceptible to internet extortion but also less likely to adopt a technology-based tool for finding responsible recruiters or legitimate H-2A jobs. Overall, we found that most recommendations and opinions on job opportunities that help a prospective worker make decisions come from personal networks.

While a free of charge recruitment process was not mentioned as a priority for workers, many of the interviewees talked about the need for some form of loan in order to cover the costs associated with receiving the H-2A visa. While willing and able to obtain funding, workers explained that large loans can have long-term consequences, not just for them, but also for their employers. One visa applicant in Guatemala said, “collaboration and solidarity among workers are important for the success of the [H2A] program.” However, “the higher the debt a worker takes on to migrate, the more likely they are to abscond.” While abscondment is a concern for recruiters and employers alike, it also results in greater worker vulnerability. Reducing costs by eliminating unexpected costs or exploitative fees for workers can help reduce abscondment, which ultimately affects both workers and employers.

Lastly, the small group of indigenous women that the LaMP team met with in Guatemala added a whole another level of complexity to the issue of responsible recruitment, bringing the perspective of migrant women working in agriculture. For them, discrimination or equal access to opportunities is the biggest problem. One aspiring female H-2A applicant said, “what we are looking for is a legal and equal opportunity for work.” Women are heavily underrepresented in the H-2A program, and for them access and fair labor conditions, adequate housing and protection against harassment are key priorities.

Putting workers’ perspectives and lived experiences at the center is not only best practice, but also fundamental for building a “responsible recruitment” ecosystem. Giving workers a safe space to provide recommendations on how to improve the H-2A visa program is an empowering experience that benefits all stakeholders involved. Overall, understanding workers’ key priorities has been crucial for promotion of a responsible recruitment industry within the H-2A program.