Who Are Iowa's Farmworkers?


Who are Iowa's Farmworkers?
Every year thousands of farmworkers are hired in Iowa. Many of these workers do not live in Iowa year-round. They come from places like Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Texas, Florida and other states. Many speak Spanish and have limited English skills. Iowa Legal Aid's goal is to make sure that the farmworker communities receive equal access to justice while living and working in the State of Iowa.

Who are migrant farmworkers?
Under the Iowa Code, a migrant worker is any person who usually and often travels from state to state to work seasonal jobs in agriculture, including their spouse and children, whether or not authorized by law to work in such job. Contrary to belief, many migrant farmworkers are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Workers who come from other states or who live far away and need to sleep away from their home are also migrant workers.

Why do Iowa farmers hire migrant workers?
Sometimes, there are not enough people in the area to work on the farms, so farmers rely on workers outside of Iowa.

What type of jobs do migrant farmworkers do?
Iowa farms hire workers to harvest crops, detassel corn, walk beans, process corn, work in egg production and hog confinements, work on dairies, and cultivate crops such as Aronia berries, soy beans, vegetables, melons, and apples.

What laws protect migrant farmworkers?
The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA or MSPA) protects farmworkers. This act was passed by Congress in 1982 and requires farmers who hire workers to comply with labor laws even when the farmers rely on labor contractors. Duties are now imposed onto farmers, labor contractors, and other agricultural enterprises.

Why did Congress make a law to protect farmworkers?
Previous laws aimed to end historic patterns of abuse and exploitation of farmworkers by regulating only the grower, but not the farm labor contractors, were not successful.  Congress passed a new law: the AWPA. New requirements for growers, farm labor contractors, packers and other agricultural enterprises under this law include: advanced disclosure of work terms and conditions, employer compliance with work arrangements and wage obligations, complete and accurate record keeping and pay statements, transportation safety, housing health and safety standards, and licensing.

What wage is a migrant farmworker paid?
Under the AWPA, migrant farmworkers get the wage they were "promised" when they were recruited or hired. The wage cannot be less than the state or  federal minimum wage (the employer must pay the higher of the two wage rates, if they are different). Today, the federal minimum wage and the Iowa minimum wage are both $7.25 an hour. 

What is an H-2A worker?
Farmers can hire foreign nationals to do agricultural work for a temporary or seasonal basis, or up to 10 months per year. An employer must show a good faith effort that they tried to hire U.S. workers; that they have proper housing and that they meet other program requirements. With the permission of the U.S. Department of Labor, authorized foreign workers receive an H-2A Visa that allows them to work lawfully in the U.S.

What is an H-2A worker paid?
An employer must pay at least the current wage under the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (for the state where the work is performed), established by the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2022, the Adverse Effect Wage Rate for H-2A workers in Iowa is $16.19 an hour.

What is a seasonal worker?
In addition to migrant farmworkers and H-2A workers, Iowa has thousands of seasonal farmworkers. A seasonal farmworker is a person who is employed in farmwork of a seasonal nature and is not required to be absent overnight from his/her permanent place of residence. Seasonal workers must receive at least the higher of the federal or state minimum wage. In Iowa, seasonal workers must be paid at least $7.25 an hour.

What legal issues do farmworkers face?
Some civil legal issues farmworkers may face include, but are not limited to, wage theft, contract violations, issues with tax debt/tax problems, unsafe  working conditions, public benefit denials, education, poor housing conditions, labor camp violations, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination and forced labor/human trafficking.poor work conditions, healthcare, public benefit denials, poor housing conditions, labor camp violations, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination and forced labor/human trafficking.

Examples of legal issues may include, but are not limited to:


  • A worker not receiving the last paycheck or receiving paychecks that have improper deductions from wages
  • Farmer does not have water or bathrooms available in field for workers
  • Housing has poor drain system, exposed wires, and other safety issues
  • Problems with crew leader/crew leader discriminating against workers on the basis of national origin, race, gender or other protected class
  • Problems with transfer of public benefits from state to state, or needing extra food stamps upon arrival in Iowa
  • If paid by bushel or acre, not receiving at least the minimum wage per hour worked

How can Iowa Legal Aid help migrant, H-2A and seasonal farmworkers?
Farmworkers face many challenges while working, from dangerous work conditions such as heat and exhaustion, to not receiving proper pay, to public benefit denials. Iowa Legal Aid helps by giving legal advice and/or representation in civil legal matters that affect farmworkers. Iowa Legal Aid staff travel around the state to conduct outreach directly to farmworkers and to give community legal presentations about farmworkers’ rights while living and working in Iowa. If you have any questions or if you need legal assistance, you may call Iowa Legal Aid at 1-800-532-1275, hablamos español.

Last Review and Update: Oct 26, 2022
Back to top