As the Biden administration works to bring legislation to Congress to address the endemic problem of immigration reform in the US, a small California startup on the other side of the nation called SESO Labor has raised $ 4.5 million to ensure that To allow legal migration of labor to farms.
SESO founder Mike Guirguis scored in the summer from investors including the Founders Fund and NFX. Trulia founder Pete Flint joined the company’s board. The company has 12 farms with which it is working and is contracting with another 46. The company’s other co-founders, Jordan Taylor, were the first product renters from Farmers Business Network and Dropbox.
Working within the current regulatory framework that has been in place since 1986, SESO has created a service that streamlines and manages the process of obtaining H-2A visas, allowing migrant farm workers to temporarily reside in the US with legal protections allows for.
At this point, SESO is automating the visa process, doing paperwork for workers and streamlining the application process. The company charges around $ 1,000 per worker, but when it eventually starts providing more services to workers, Guirguiz envisions several strong lines of revenue. Ultimately, the company would like to offer integrated services to both farm owners and farm workers, Guirguis said.
SESO currently expects to bring in 1,000 employees during 2021 and the company is pre-revenue so far. Gurigugis said that the largest industrialist currently handling labor visas currently brings in 6,000 workers per year, so this competition for SESO is market share.
The complex history of US immigration and agricultural labor
The H-2A program was established to cater to agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to work in the fields temporarily or seasonally. Workers are covered by US wage laws, workers’ compensation and other standards, including access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.
Employers who use the visa program to hire workers are required to pay inbound and outbound transportation, provide free or rental accommodation and provide food for workers (cost cutting them from pay Is allowed to do).
The H-2 visa was first created in 1952 as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which strengthened the national provenance quota system that primarily restricted immigration to northern Europe, but for the first time since immigration laws The US borders were opened to Asian immigrants. In 1924. While immigration regulations were opened in the sixties, the last major immigration reform package in 1986 served to restrict immigration and made it illegal for businesses to hire unspecified workers. It has made H-2A visas a way for farms to hire migrant workers, which does not impose penalties associated with illegal labor.
For some migrant workers, the H-2A visa represents a golden ticket, according to Guirguis, an honors graduate from Stanford who wrote his undergraduate thesis on labor policy.
Referring to payroll provider Gusto, we are the Guirguis of the company’s ultimate mission, “We are providing a staffing solution for farms and agribusiness and we want to promote farms to agriculture and a comprehensive human resource solution Huh.”
As Guirguis notes, most workers in agriculture are unspecified. “These are people who have been taken advantage of [and] H-2A is a visa to legally bring workers. We are able to help employers retain the workforce [and] We are building software to help farmers maintain farms. “
Open borders even when closed
Fields need help if the latest numbers on labor shortages are reliable, but it is not necessarily the lack of H-2A visas that are to blame, according to an article by Reuters.
In fact, according to a Reuters report, the number of H-2A visas for agricultural equipment operators increased to 10,798 from October to March. According to US Department of Labor data cited by Reuters, it was 49% a year ago.
Instead of the inability to obtain an H-2A visa, it was the inability to travel to the US that is causing the problem. Tight border controls, persistent global epidemics and travel restrictions that were imposed to combat it all have played a role in keeping migrant workers in their home countries.
Still, Guirguis believes that with the right means, more farms will be ready to use H-2A visas, cut illegal immigration, and boost the labor pool available for tough agricultural jobs that U.S. workers Don’t want
David Misner, owner of an Oklahoma-based harvesting company called Green Acres Enterprises, is an employer who usually struggles to find a suitable replacement for those migrant workers.
“They couldn’t fathom doing it and making it work,” Miesner told Reuters, speaking of American workers they tried to hire.
“With H-2A, migrant workers make 10 times more than they pay at home,” Guirguis said. “They are taking home the equivalent of $ 40 an hour. The H-2A is prestigious.”
Guirguis believes that with the right incentives and an easy onramp for farmers to manage the application and approval process, the number of employers using H-2A visas in the country can range from 30% to 50% . This means that the number of potential jobs for migrants will increase from 300,000 to 1.5 million, which would be under many of the same legal protections that citizens enjoy while working on visas.
Protecting agricultural workers through better paperwork
Interest in the farm labor nexus and issues surrounding it first helped his cousin to start his own farm through the experience of founder Guirguis. Spending several weekends a month with her husband to help develop the farm, Guirguis heard her stories about coming to America as an unspecified worker.
Employers using the program avoid the liability associated with employing illegal labor, something that cracks became more common under the Trump administration.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to deny the roots of the program in the deep past of US immigration policy. And some immigration advocates argue that the H-2A system suffers from the same structural problems that affect corollary H-1B visas for technical staff.
“The H-2A visa is a short-term temporary visa program that employers use to import workers into agricultural sectors… it is part of a very archaic immigration system that needs to be changed. 11.5 million people living here need to be given citizenship, ”said Saket Soni, founder of the organization called the Resilience Force, which advocates for immigrant labor. “And then the workers who come from other countries, if we need them, they should be able to live… H-2A workers do not have the path to citizenship. Workers come to us for fear of whistling on labor issues. As much as H-2A is a welcome gift to a worker, it can also be misused. “
Sony’s uncertainty of a worker’s status – and their reliance on a single employer for their ability to remain in the country legally – means they are less likely to speak out about problems at work, because their There is nowhere for them to be fired.
Soni said, “We are big proponents that if you need people’s labor then you have to welcome them as human beings.” “Where there is a labor shortage when people arrive, they should be allowed to live … H-2A is an example of an old immigration device.”
Guirguis clearly disagreed and said that a platform like SESO would eventually create greater suitability and better services for workers arriving on these visas.
“We are trying to put more money into the hands of these workers at the end of the day,” he said. “We are going to set up remittances and banking services. Everything we do should be mutually beneficial to employers and workers who are trying to get into the program and know that they are not being taken advantage of. “