Homeland Security extends temporary H-2A visa rule

Issue Date: August 26, 2020
By Dave Kranz

Describing it as part of an effort to reduce "continued disruptions and uncertainty to the U.S. food agriculture sector" during the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it will continue to allow temporary foreign agricultural workers to extend their stays in the United States under specific circumstances.

DHS published a temporary final rule last week that will continue amendments to regulations overseeing the H-2A agricultural visa program that it first announced in April. The rule, which the department said provides "certain flexibilities" to H-2A visa holders and their U.S. employers, had been scheduled to expire Aug. 18.

Under the rule, farmers approved to hire H-2A visa holders may start hiring those employees already in the U.S. immediately after receiving notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that it had received the employer's petition to do so. DHS said the rule allows H-2A employees to move to a new employer in order "to meet urgent temporary or seasonal agricultural needs" in a more efficient manner.

"DHS believes this continued flexibility will help address the challenges faced by U.S. employers due to COVID-19 as the busy fall harvest season approaches," the agency said.

The updated final rule will remain in effect through Dec. 17.

An analysis by American Farm Bureau Federation economist Veronica Nigh shows farmers and ranchers across the U.S. used the H-2A program in record numbers during the April-June quarter of 2020.

After reviewing data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Nigh said the number of certified H-2A positions during the quarter was up 4% compared to the same period of 2019.

The quarter also featured the "largest-ever number of applications" during the period, Nigh said, noting that the 3,098 applications received during the quarter represented a 5% increase from the same time a year earlier.

The time needed to process H-2A visa applications became a concern during early weeks of the pandemic, but Nigh said the latest Labor Department report "provided some good news related to application processing time, despite the challenges of the coronavirus." She said the report showed 96% of H-2A applications had been approved in a "timely manner" during the quarter; the Labor Department defines "timely" to mean 30 days before the start date of need.

California ranks fourth nationally in the number of certified H-2A positions so far this year, behind Florida, Washington and Georgia. Slightly more than 20,000 H-2A positions had been certified in California in the first three quarters of the federal fiscal year.

"The coronavirus certainly had the potential to completely upend the H-2A program," Nigh wrote on the AFBF Market Intel blog. "However, as a result of outreach by growers, grower organizations and elected officials, important flexibilities were quickly provided for the program. These flexibilities ensured that the program continued to play a vital role in U.S. agriculture, setting new records for third-quarter use."

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@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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