Every year, the agricultural business demands a massive influx of workers for planting, cultivating, and harvesting crops. US farmers who need seasonal or temporary workers may benefit from the H-2A visa program.
In this article, you will discover what an agricultural visa is and how US farmers can use it to fill employment gaps.
H-2A Visa Program – The Basics
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administers the H-2A temporary agricultural workers program. Under this program, US employers can bring foreign workers to the United States to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work.
It is important to understand that the terms “seasonal” and “temporary” refer to distinct concepts.
Seasonal work occurs when farmers need more help than usual during specific periods of the year (e.g., short annual growing cycle). Temporary work refers to activities that last no longer than one year.
Depending on the type of work needed by US agriculture firms or producers, it may benefit owners of farms, plantations, ranches, nurseries, orchards, or other similar productions. The types of activities performed by H-2A temporary workers include, but are not limited to, planting, cultivating, or harvesting labor.
What is an Agricultural Visa? – US Petitioner’s Application Process
Prospective workers may not self-petition to obtain H-2A visas. USCIS requires that a US employer, a US agent (as described in the regulations), or an association of US agricultural producers named as a joint employer may apply on a prospective worker’s behalf.
When filing a petition to qualify for the H-2A visa program, US agricultural employers must:
- Offer an agricultural job of temporary or seasonal nature
- Prove that no sufficient US workers are willing, qualified, or able to perform those activities
- Demonstrate that the employment of foreign labor will not negatively affect the wages and working conditions of US workers in similar employment
- Submit a valid temporary labor certification issued by the US Department of Labor (DOL)
The petitioner must file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with a valid temporary labor certification to USCIS. Once the petition is approved, prospective workers can apply to occupy vacant temporary positions under H-2A status.
What is an Agricultural Visa? – Eligible Countries
The H-2A program restricts the availability of visas for nationals of eligible countries. The eligibility is designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security, with the concurrence of the Office of the Secretary of State.
Annually, the Department of Homeland Security publishes the list of H-2A eligible countries in a Federal Register notice. Once published, the list is valid for one year.
H-2A Agricultural Visa – Family and Period of Stay
After receiving USCIS approval for an H-2A visa, temporary workers may bring a spouse and unmarried children (under 21) to stay temporarily in the United States under the H-4 nonimmigrant classification.
H-2A dependents are not eligible for US employment while in H-4 status, but they can personally qualify for work visas.
The validity period of the H-2A nonimmigrant classification generally depends on the period authorized for the temporary labor certification. It is possible to extend H-2A employment in increments of up to one year each.
With all increments included, the maximum period of stay for H-2A workers is three years. Once this period is over, the H-2A worker must depart and remain outside of the United States for three uninterrupted months before applying for readmission.