Agricultural & Foreign Labor Services December News and Highlights

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December 8, 2023

(Para una versión en español, haga clic aquí.)

Agricultural Employment Services (AES) Team Meets, Celebrates Thanksgiving

Agricultural Employment Services team meeting

The AES Team held their monthly meeting at the Allegan Michigan Works! Service Center on November 8. During the meeting, management had the opportunity to address the team, provide updates, and even celebrate Thanksgiving! 

Targeted Services Division Administrator, Hector Arroyo Jr. provided updates, discussed best practices from the season and asked the AEL team to develop strategies to enhance outreach and continue to provide quality MSFW outreach services.

State Monitor Advocate Gerardo Aranda, Foreign Labor Services Manager Ginger Vallejo, Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker (MSFW) Program Manager Hugo Pantoja, and Agriculture Employment Liaisons (AELs) Martha Cerda, Isaac Lopez, Jose Barco and Kevin Benson also had the chance to address the team and share updates from conferences they attended.

Chicken mole

The AES team celebrated Thanksgiving early by bringing a dish to pass around for lunch. Instead of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, staff shared several authentic Mexican dishes, including Chicken Mole and Pozole.

Chicken Mole is a classic Mexican meal that brings together two delectable ingredients: chicken and mole. Mole, a luscious sauce crafted from chili peppers, spices and chocolate, is celebrated for its intricate taste profile, blending savory, sweet and spicy notes. This dish is commonly accompanied by rice and tortillas, making it a beloved and flavorful choice among lovers of Mexican cuisine.


Pozole is a traditional dish that has been savored for countless generations. Usually prepared as a robust soup or stew, the base is created by simmering hominy with meat, seasonings and an array of ingredients like onions, spices and dried chili peppers. This beloved dish takes center stage during festive occasions and holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Eve. 

Highlights From the Inter-Agency Migrant Services Committee Annual Conference

The Inter-Agency Migrant Services Committee (IMSC) Conference for Michigan's Farmworkers, Service Providers and Growers took place in Grand Rapids on November 1. The conference, titled The Hands that Feed Us: Improving Health, Well-being, and Safety for Farmworkers, aimed to address a range of topics. These included updates from state departments, farmworkers' health and mental well-being, labor trafficking, heat stress and air quality, pesticides, immigration and more.

During the conference, LEO was recognized for its leadership in implementing safety measures that protected outreach workers during the pandemic. Dale Freeman, the IMSC director, credited LEO's leadership for inspiring other departments to adopt similar safety measures and provide necessary services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers during the challenging times of the pandemic.

Panelists at Migrant Services conference

The State Monitor Advocate Gerardo Aranda delivered an inspiring presentation that left a lasting impact on the audience. With passion and eloquence, he shared insights and experiences that educated and motivated everyone in attendance. His powerful words and compelling stories resonated deeply, igniting a sense of purpose and a call to action among the listeners. 

Gerardo Aranda speaking at Migrant Services conference

As a result, many were inspired to look closer at their roles and responsibilities, seeking ways to make a positive difference in their respective fields. The State Monitor Advocate's presentation encouraged individuals to strive for excellence and advocate for the rights and wellbeing of those they serve.

Additionally, Ginger Vallejo, Foreign Labor Services Manager, and Hugo Pantoja, MSFW Program Manager provided updates on their respective programs.

Michigan State University Farm Labor Conference

The Michigan State University team organized an insightful conference to address the pressing issues surrounding agricultural workers. Esteemed experts from various parts of the country came together to share their research and knowledge on crucial topics such as farm labor challenges, farm employer solutions, the impact of Covid-19 on the industry, and the intricate relationship between farm employees' legal status and the labor supply.

Zach Rutledge, the dedicated conference organizer, emphasized the vital role agricultural workers play in the United States economy. Their hard work and dedication ensure that American consumers have access to a stable supply of domestically produced food. 

However, the availability of domestic farm workers has been steadily declining, resulting in chronic labor shortages that pose significant challenges for American farmers. Adding to this issue is the fact agricultural wages have not kept pace with those in other key sectors that compete for the same labor pool. This wage disparity intensifies the pressure on an already strained farm labor market.

Overview of attendees during the MSU conference

To address the ongoing labor shortages, many agricultural employers have turned to the H-2A visa program as a means to meet their labor needs. However, this solution comes with its own set of challenges, as the H-2A visa program is typically more expensive than hiring domestic workers. The conference shed light on these complexities surrounding the H-2A program and explored potential strategies to mitigate its associated costs and streamline the process.

Overall, the conference served as a platform for meaningful discussions and innovative ideas to tackle the multifaceted issues impacting agricultural workers. The dedication and expertise of the MSU team was instrumental in bringing together experts from various fields to collectively address these challenges and work towards sustainable solutions for the agricultural industry.

Hugo speaking at MSU conference

At the conference, Hugo Pantoja, the Program Manager for the MSFW program at Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), represented LEO and shed light on the challenges faced by farm employees in Michigan. Drawing from his own personal experiences as a former migrant and seasonal farmworker, Hugo's presentation carried a significant level of credibility and deep understanding of the daily struggles faced by Michigan farm workers. 

During his presentation, Hugo highlighted several programs that have been developed to assist both employees and employers in the agricultural industry. These programs include the Barrier Removal to Employment Success (BRES) program, which aims to address and overcome any obstacles that may prevent individuals from gaining and maintaining employment. By providing support and resources, BRES helps farm employees navigate through challenges such as transportation, childcare and language barriers.

Hugo also talked about Registered Apprenticeships, which offer valuable training and education opportunities for individuals interested in pursuing a career in the agricultural industry. Through Registered Apprenticeships, farm employees can gain practical skills and knowledge that will enhance their job prospects and future earning potential.

The Going PRO Talent Fund, which provides financial assistance to employers for the purpose of training and developing their workforce, is another program that can help employees and employers alike. Talent Fund plays a crucial role in improving the skills and capabilities of farm employees, ensuring their long-term success in the industry.

Lastly, Hugo emphasized the Agricultural Recruitment System (ARS), a comprehensive platform that connects job seekers with agricultural employers in Michigan. This system streamlines the hiring process, making it easier for both employees and employers to find suitable matches and fill job vacancies efficiently.

Hugo's personal journey from being a farmworker to becoming a dedicated LEO employee served as a beacon of hope for the audience. It demonstrated that the system in place truly works, and that Michigan offers growth opportunities for employees from all walks of life. His firsthand experience and in-depth knowledge of the challenges faced by farm workers made his presentation all the more impactful and inspiring.

Staff Announcements

Saying Goodbye to Seasonal Staff

As the peak season came to a end, it is with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to our dedicated team of seasonal workers who have contributed greatly to our success over the past few months.

Patricia Gray, Clarikssa Mejia, Jose Barco and Nancy Sanchez Ortega

We would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to Patricia Gray, Clarikssa Mejia, Jose Barco and Nancy Sanchez Ortega for their hard work, commitment and invaluable contributions to LEO’s Agriculture and Foreign Labor Services.

Throughout the peak season, our seasonal team members have played an integral role in ensuring smooth operations, providing exceptional services to our migrant and seasonal farmworkers and employers. Their dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to go the extra mile have truly made a difference and enriched our working environment.

Welcome to the Office of Foreign Labor Services, Maribel!

Headshot of Maribel Valle

Maribel has dedicated her career to serving the farmworker community. She spent three years as a Migrant Program Specialist at the Farmworker Outreach Services Division, formerly known as the Van Buren County MDHHS. For more than five years, she has been the Co-Chair of the Southwestern Michigan Migrant Resource Council (SWMMRC), a role that has further deepened her connection with the community.

Prior to that, she spent eight years with the Telamon Corporation NFJP, working as a Workforce Development Specialist. In this role, she collaborated closely with Michigan Works! staff and local colleges and universities to support clients pursuing postsecondary education. Maribel earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Management from Cornerstone University. She credits her clients as the inspiration behind her decision to return to school and complete her degree. She hopes to pass on this motivation on to her daughter and encourage her to continually learn and grow.

Originally from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Maribel and her family chose to relocate to Michigan, a place her family used to migrate to during the summers. Maribel loves living in Michigan, appreciates the change of seasons and the opportunity to give back to a community that once supported her own family. Welcome to the team, Maribel!

Unemployment Assistance Available

As the peak season for agriculture in Michigan ends, thousands of migrant and seasonal farmworkers will be applying for unemployment benefits. The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) is prepared to assist with any inquiries and provide support for filing claims. homepage

UIA offers temporary financial assistance to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own. These benefits are funded by taxes paid by employers covered under the Michigan Employment Security Act.

To learn more about the services provided by the UIA, go to You will find information on various services, including:

  • Unemployment Benefits: Accessing MiWAM, applying for benefits, scheduling appointments, and reporting fraud or identity theft.
  • Employer Services: Managing your tax account, registering a business, contacting the Office of Employer Ombudsman, and information on the Work Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Finding Employment: Understanding work search requirements, utilizing Pure Michigan Talent Connect (, connecting with your local Michigan Works! Service Center, assisting individuals with disabilities in obtaining employment, and supporting blind or visually impaired individuals in finding work.

Michigan Agriculture and Food Systems Workforce Advancement Initiative

Are you a Michigan food grower, processor or distributor looking to develop your employees' work skills or need to fill critical jobs that required the use, or knowledge of, high-level technology? Or are you a Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker (MSFW) looking to enhance your skills, learn today’s work skills, or gain work experience?

MAFSWAI webpage

The Michigan Agriculture and Food Systems Workforce Advancement Initiative (MAFSWAI) might be for you! MAFSWAI will help to develop innovative educational programs in agriculture systems and technology, meet Michigan food business' needs to remain viable with a more reliable supply of skilled workers, and support MSFWs who want more work stability and economic opportunity by developing the skills needed to advance.

Contact your nearest Agricultural Employment Liaison to learn more about the MAFSWAI initiative. 

Explore Current Job Opportunities on Pure Michigan Talent Connect homepage with December banner

Michigan has thousands of jobs throughout the state in a variety of industries, including many full-time jobs with benefits in the Food and Agricultural Industry, as well as in the Agri-business sector.

We encourage you to visit Pure Michigan Talent Connect ( and search for your next full-time job today!

Updates from the Office of Foreign Labor Services

Michigan SWA, H-2A FY24 First Quarter Update:

Michigan’s agricultural sector relies more and more on foreign labor, as shown by the steady growth of the H-2A program in the state over the last five years. According to the Great Lakes Ag Labor Services, a service provider affiliated with the Michigan Farm Bureau, the number of new clients who requested H-2A seasonal guest workers increased by 50% in 2022, resulting in the placement of 2,200 workers.

Michigan Office of Foreign Labor comparison chart

The Office of Foreign Labor Services expects this trend to continue as numbers show in the in the second month of the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2024 (data below). The rising demand for H-2A workers demonstrates their vital contribution to Michigan’s agriculture system. However, it also raises some challenges, such as the high Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) that some farmers find unaffordable as well as cost of using the H-2A program, which includes fees, wages, transportation, housing, and other expenses. 

More information about the Office of Foreign Labor can be found on Michigan's Foreign Labor Services website.

OFLC Releases Public Disclosure Data and Selected Program Statistics for Q4 of Fiscal Year 2023

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) released a comprehensive set of public disclosure data (through the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2023) drawn from employer applications requesting prevailing wage determinations and labor certifications for the PERM, LCA (H-1B, H-1B1, E-3), H-2A, H-2B, CW-1, and Prevailing Wage programs.

View the disclosure here.

H-2A and H-2B Foreign Labor Program Resources

USDOL H-2A Websites

USDOL H-2B Websites

State Workforce Agency (SWA) Websites

Updates From the State Monitor Advocate 

USDOL ETA Vision 2030 Conference

The ETA Vision 2030 Regional Workforce Convening was held in Chicago on November 14-15. State Monitor Advocate Gerardo Aranda was invited to present to an audience of State Workforce Agency and WIOA leaders from the surrounding states.

Gerardo presented on how the Monitor Advocate System contributes to the workforce system that plays an essential role in building pathways and expanding access to quality jobs; how the structure of the states’ Monitor Advocate System MSFW outreach provides the opportunity to improve the lives of MSFWs across the country; and how having sufficient outreach staff is vital to ensure MSFWs have access to all employment and training services as other workers.

The convening brought together representatives from across the workforce ecosystem to lay out a vision that can expand opportunities for workers and communities, develop new industry partnerships that lead to good jobs, build a better care economy, and take action for the future of work.

Gerardo Aranda speaking at the 2023 ETA Regional Conference

Gerardo presented alongside Georgia SMA Felipe Pacheco. ETA Region 5 Regional Monitor Advocate Ray Garcia, and Region 3 Regional Monitor Advocate Maureen Mitchell, who lead the panel discussion.

Representatives from18 different states attended the session which highlighted strong practices and programs, how to build partnerships and break down silos, catalyze success by scaling up together, discuss challenges and opportunities, and create strategic plans to meet the needs of the future.

MSFW Outreach Continues...

The AES MSFW outreach staff contacted more than 10,000 MSFWs during July, August and September. As winter approaches, MSFW outreach efforts continue. During October, AES MSFW outreach staff contacted 1,014 MSFWs and registered 206 for services through the Michigan Works! network. In addition, 355 H-2A visa workers were contacted and provided farmworker rights information along with a list of community resources.

The AES MSFW outreach staff work collaboratively with Michigan Works! staff providing assistance to MSFWs whose job has ended and are filing for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. In October, 357 MSFWs were assisted filing their UI claims, a huge spike from the 154 MSFWs who were assisted in October 2022.

These efforts are helping Michigan achieve all eight Equity Ratio Indicators (ERI) goals consistently.

Equity Ratio Indicators chart

ERIs are required to be met on a quarterly basis. Congratulations to the AES and Michigan Works! teams for ensuring MSFWs are provided the same level of services as non-MSFWs.

Agricultural Recruitment System (ARS)

It’s never too early to begin recruiting workers for the 2024 season. AES and Michigan Works! staff are ready to assist recruitment efforts locally, in-state and out of state.

ARS flyer

The Agricultural Recruitment System (ARS) helps agricultural employers recruit qualified U.S. workers on a temporary or seasonal basis, and provides workers seeking temporary agricultural employment with opportunities for such employment. Through the ARS, AES and Michigan Works! staff can recruit and refer qualified U.S. workers from within Michigan and from other states when they anticipate there are less temporary agricultural workers available than needed in the local area. 

The ARS has been available for many years and was widely used by Michigan farmers since the mid 70’s and into the early 80’s, when Michigan processed hundreds of ARS interstate clearance orders to secure a seasonal or temporary agricultural labor force.

In many cases, when local and instate labor was not available, the ARS recruited workers from Texas, Florida, and other supply states. Many of the families and workers recruited through the ARS returned every year once they made the connection with Michigan farmers. Those families and workers continued to travel to Michigan for many years to come, with many of them settling in the state.

For more information on ARS or if you would like to participate in ARS, contact your local Michigan Works! Service Center.

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