Temporary Changes to the H-2A Visa Program for Agricultural Workers
Recently, most of the news about immigration and how it’s been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has been generally negative, like stories of cramped detention holding facilities, or the refusal to delay immigration cases in recognition of the lack of social distancing in immigration law courts. But recently, some good immigration news is coming out of the crisis.
Flexibility with H-2A Visas
The government has made some changes to the rules surrounding H-2A visa holders. Many of these workers assist farmers, work in agriculture, or do some sort of labor in a farm setting. Of course, the United States’ food chain supply is at risk as it is, with many industries having to slow down food production for fears of illness spreading to its workers. The last thing the country needs is immigration problems for the workers that are helping farmers make sure that food gets to our supermarkets.
In recognition of the need to protect the food supply chain, the government is allowing any employer who employs workers holding H-2A visas and who may have concern that their employees will not be able to enter the country because of either immigration or travel restrictions, to hire any immigrant holding an H-2A visa—even one that is currently working for another employer.
In other words, the rule change makes it easier for an immigrant holding the H-2A visa to switch employers, and makes it easier for employers to get employees who may be working for another employer. Normally, the H-2A restricts employees from jumping from one employer to another.
Extensions and Other Rule Changes
The H-2A visa also requires that workers only stay for three years, after which point, they must return to their home country. They can re-apply and come back, but they still must leave after the three year period. That three year period is now being extended, meaning that employers (mostly farmers in this case) don’t have to worry about employees leaving, and then having to come back.
Lastly, the new rule allows employers to hire immigrants once the petition for the H-2A visa is received by the government. The petition still must be approved, and the immigrant applicant must still meet the conditions of the visa, and if he or she does not, the worker cannot be employed. But at least the employer can allow the immigrant to work while the application is pending.
The government is making this change with the caveat that it is still not legal to hire illegal aliens.
The rule changes apply to workers who work in labor or agricultural fields or a temporary nature, usually up to one year, in areas where qualified United States workers are not available.
Questions about your legal immigration status, or your ability to work in the country legally? Contact the Palm Beach County immigration attorneys at Devore Law Group to help you with your immigration questions.