H-2A Change May Aid Growers

Ernie NeffLabor

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A temporary final rule change to some H-2A requirements is intended to help citrus and other agricultural employers avoid disruptions to their labor forces, protect the food supply and lessen impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. The rule change was announced by the Department of Homeland Security with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Temporary foreign H-2A workers make up the vast majority of Florida’s citrus harvesting labor force.

Under the temporary final rule, an H-2A petitioner who is concerned that workers will be unable to enter the country due to travel restrictions can start employing certain foreign workers who are currently in H-2A status in the United States. The employer can start employing those workers immediately after United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives the H-2A petition, but no earlier than the start date of employment listed on the petition. To take advantage of this time-limited change in regulatory requirements, the H-2A worker seeking to change employers must already be in the United States and in valid H-2A status.

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Additionally, USCIS is temporarily amending its regulations by allowing H-2A workers to stay beyond the three-year maximum allowable period of stay in the United States. These temporary changes will hopefully encourage and facilitate the continued lawful employment of foreign temporary and seasonal agricultural workers during the COVID-19 national emergency. Agricultural employers should utilize this streamlined process if they are concerned with their ability to bring in the temporary workers who were previously authorized to work for the employer.

“This Administration has determined that continued agricultural employment, currently threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, is vital to maintaining and securing the country’s critical food supply chain,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf. “The temporary changes announced by USCIS provide the needed stability during this unprecedented crisis.”

The temporary final rule is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. The H-2A nonimmigrant classification allows the temporary workers to perform services for which able, willing and qualified U.S. workers aren’t available.

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large