State Department expands processing of H-2 visas

Issue Date: April 1, 2020
By Kevin Hecteman

California farmers dealing with uncertain availability of employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic will have an easier time recruiting guestworkers, after the State Department expanded the categories of H-2A visa applicants eligible to come to the United States without an in-person interview.

Consular officers now have the option of waiving visa interview requirements for first-time as well as returning applicants. Those whose visas expired in the past 48 months and who didn't require a waiver the previous time they applied don't need to be interviewed in person if they're applying for the same visa classification as they did previously.

Sara Neagu-Reed, associate director of federal policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the original interview waiver applied only to people whose visas had expired in the past 12 months and who had not previously had the interview waived.

"This is positive news for our H-2A/B users," Neagu-Reed said. "This announcement indicates more H-2A/B visas will now be considered interview waiver-eligible, allowing for increased workforce access."

The State Department had caused concern about farm employers in mid-March when it announced it was suspending processing of new, nonemergency visa applications, including from agricultural guestworkers coming to the U.S. on H-2A visas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it has been working with the departments of State, Labor and Homeland Security to minimize disruptions in the U.S. farm labor force.

"Temporarily waiving in-person interviews for H-2 visa applicants streamlines the application process and helps provide steady labor for the agriculture sector during this time of uncertainty," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. "H-2 labor is vital to the economy and food security of America."

USDA maintains a page of information about the H-2A program at www.farmers.gov/manage/h2a.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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