The H-2A program helps US farmers to recruit eligible foreign workers to fill temporary and seasonal agricultural jobs in the United States.
If there are agricultural jobs available and no US workers who are able, qualified, willing, or available to perform them, the H-2A nonimmigrant visa may provide an efficient solution. Keep reading to discover the H-2A visa requirements.
H-2A Visa Requirements – The Essentials
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a list of select countries eligible for the H-2A Agricultural Worker program.
The Department of Homeland Security publishes the annual list of H-2A and H-2B eligible countries in a Federal Register notice. Once published, the designation of eligible H-2A countries is valid for one year (counting from publication).
Similar to other temporary work visas, a US employer must apply on behalf of prospective foreign workers. Only US agricultural employers, authorized agents, or associations of US agricultural producers may file an H-2A application.
Petitioners must meet a set of requirements established by USCIS, such as:
- Offering agricultural jobs of a temporary or seasonal nature
- Demonstrating the existence of an absence of domestic workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to perform those activities
- Demonstrating that bringing H-2A workers to the United States will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed domestic workers
Additionally, the US employer must submit a valid temporary labor certification from the Department of Labor with the H-2A petition.
Applying for the H-2A Visa – Step-by-Step
Obtaining a Valid Labor Certification
The first step to applying for the H-2A visa is to file a temporary labor certification with the US Department of Labor (DOL). The US employer or agent must request the certification at least 45 days before the foreign worker’s intended employment.
USCIS requires labor certification to determine the availability of US workers for that specific activity. Also, it is crucial to identify whether the employment of foreign workers will adversely affect the wages and working conditions of US workers in similar conditions.
The H-2A labor certification is valid for up to 364 days.
Filing Form I-129 with USCIS
Once the temporary labor certification application is approved, the second step is to apply with USCIS. The US employer must file Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) with the H supplement on behalf of prospective workers.
Please note that prospective H-2A workers may self-petition for such a visa. Generally, the petitioner must submit the original copy of the temporary labor certification with Form I-129 as initial evidence (although there are limited exceptions to the rule).
The best approach is to work with an experienced immigration attorney to file the application forms. This way, it is possible to avoid costly mistakes and increase the chances of approval.
Beneficiary’s Application Process
If the H-2A beneficiary is outside of the country, he or she must file the visa application forms at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad after Form I-129 is approved.
If a prospective H-2A worker is already in the United States under lawful status, the US employer must request a change/extension of status with USCIS. Similar to the standard application process, the employer must file Form l-129 on the worker’s behalf.
While the petition is pending, the beneficiary cannot travel outside the United States.