TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – September’s newsletter from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) reported that in 2022, their Migrant Labor Housing Program licensed 980 camps and conducted 2,913 inspections for migrant housing and had the capacity to house 31,000 people in 4,125 units. According to the state, the program is “designed to ensure the safety of housing occupied by five or more migrant agricultural workers” and Michigan law requires that those camps are licensed.

MDARD reports progress made in fast-tracking inspection information by explaining, “The program developed a linked database with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Foreign Labor Certification Office to automate sharing inspection reports and expedite processing time so Michigan farmers could obtain the labor they needed to harvest their crops and maintain Michigan leadership and economic viability as a top agricultural state.”

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Requirements that are investigated during the inspections include checking the water supplies, camp maintenance, structurally sound and properly equipped shelters, fire safety, bathing and laundry facilities, toilet facilities, and proper waste disposal. If a violation is found, the license is denied and the camp operator is ordered to keep the camp vacant until corrections are made.

In the 2022 Migrant Labor Housing Annual Report, Program Manager Majed Ghussaini says, “Migrant workers play an important role in the planting, cultivating, harvesting and packaging of 38 labor-intensive crops grown in Michigan. These crops generate $2.3 billion in farm gate revenues each year. Quality housing is needed to retain Michigan’s reputation as a good place to work and attract this much needed seasonal workforce.”

The report also shows that the number of licensed camps grew substantially in 2022. From 2017 to 2021, the number of licensed camps stayed within the range of 811 to 881 but that number jumped to 980 in 2022.

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The program goals for 2023 include to continue to update the electronic inspection system; conduct a housing survey and identify issues of concern from the occupant’s perspective; to work with the Migrant labor Housing Advisory Board to improve housing and living conditions; and to continue to work on public health issues.

The Migrant Labor Housing Program received the Governor’s Customer Service Gold Coin recently for their work to ensure the timely completion of all housing inspections to meet the H-2A visa deadline. The H-2A program allows U.S. employers, or U.S. agents, who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Approved and licensed housing is one of the primary requirements to process these work visas. Staff worked together as a team, responded to inquiries from growers, and farm labor contractors.

Even though state inspections are in place to make life more comfortable for migrants, Second Wave Michigan reports that many of Michigan’s migrant farm workers contend with “long hours, exposure to agricultural chemicals, dangerous heavy machinery, crowded housing, extreme heat, dehydration, and lack of access to healthy food – resulting in injuries, illness, and chronic disease.”

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They report that the fear of being fired or deported prevents them from seeking medical treatment. Molly Spaak, an attorney with Migrant Legal Aid says, “They face a variety of health disparities in Michigan specifically, but also across the United States. Many migrants lack stable health insurance. And options are communicated to them in a language that, in most cases, they don’t really understand. Moreover, they face higher prejudices from the medical profession, which in turn can result in lower-quality care.”

However, In order to help the migrants adjust to life in the states, and in Michigan, there are many non-profits, churches and the government agencies available to lend a helping hand.

Dale Freeman, Michigan Dept of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) migrant services director says, “We’ve got over 40 staff and local offices throughout the state [that] provide outreach to migrant farm workers, primarily with migrant farm workers. If they’ve just arrived or have been here just a short time, they may not know anything about what kind of services are available to them. Our staff go out to visit them in their migrant labor housing, or wherever they might be staying, and explain what programs they might be eligible for and help them to make an application either on paper or online.”