How to apply for an H-2A temporary agricultural work visa in the U.S.


The number of temporary workers for agricultural jobs in the United States has increased over the past five years, despite the immigration restrictions implemented by the Donald Trump administration and the covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, the H-2A visa is the only one that has seen an increase in issuances over five years. According to Department of Labor (DOL) data, in 2016 the U.S. issued a total of 134,368 H-2A visas and in 2020 213,394 visas were issued, a 62% increase.

The most common jobs in 2020 under the H-2A visa are filled by agricultural workers and day laborers, farm equipment operators, and farm animal, livestock, and aquatic animal agricultural workers. Among the employers hiring the largest number of temporary workers under the H-2A visa are North Carolina Growers Association, Inc., Fresh Harvest, Inc. and Wafla.

On the DOL website you can view available temporary jobs in the United States, as well as their description, duration, location, pay and contact information.

Farmers in the U.S. hire more foreign workers than domestic workers. According to a series of interviews conducted between 2015 and 2016 by DOL, nearly 7 in 10 of farmworkers were born in Mexico (67%) and 83% of all farmworkers were Hispanic.

Employers who choose to participate in the H-2A program must demonstrate to DOL that there are not enough "able, willing, and qualified U.S. workers available to perform the temporary, seasonal agricultural employment" and that the work offered to the temporary foreign workers does not adversely affect the soils and working conditions of U.S. employees performing similar tasks.

Below we explain the process for obtaining an H-2A visa, its restrictions and benefits.

H-2A Visa Process

The H-2A program allows agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor on a temporary basis.

The start-to-finish process for hiring someone under the H-2A visa takes about 75 days, and is as follows:
  1. The farmer files a work order with the State Workforce Agency (SWA).
  2. The farmer files an H-2A application with the National Processing Center in Chicago (NPC).
  3. A recruitment is conducted for U.S. workers.
  4. The petitioner files Form 1-129 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  5. Prospective workers apply for the H-2A visa with the U.S. Department of State and complete their interview at the U.S. consulate in their home country.
  6. Approved workers must enter the U.S. at a U.S. port of entry.
Information for workers

On their first day of employment, the employer must provide each employee with a copy of their contract in the worker's language. The contract must include:
  • Start and end date of the contract, as well as the location of the job.
  • All significant terms and conditions of employment, such as transportation, housing and meal expenses.
  • Hours to be worked per day and the days the worker is expected to work.
  • The type of crop they will be working on and each job to be performed.
  • The applicable rates for each crop or job.
The contract shall also state that all required tools, supplies and equipment will be furnished at no cost, that indemnity insurance will be provided at no cost, and shall provide for any deductions not otherwise required by law.

Housing, Food and Transportation

The employer must provide housing at no cost to H-2A workers who cannot reasonably return home on the same day. The employer is also required to provide each worker with three meals per day that do not exceed the cost specified by DOL, or to provide free cooking facilities. It must also provide daily transportation from the employer-provided housing to the worksite at no cost to the workers.

The employer must not withhold workers' passports or immigration documents, or receive payments for any expenses incurred to obtain H-2A labor certification. See legal protections for H-2A workers.

How long can I work in the U.S.?

The H-2A visa is granted for a term of one year, although two extensions of up to one year each may be requested. The application for extension must be filed before its expiration date and workers may remain in the U.S. during the extension process.

The maximum period of stay is 3 years. After this time, H-2A visa beneficiaries must leave the U.S. for a period of 3 continuous months before applying for readmission under the same type of visa.

Workers who receive the extension do not have to apply for a new visa as long as they do not leave the U.S., and if they return to their home country, they must apply for a new visa before re-entering the United States.

Can I bring my family to the U.S.?

Yes. An H-2A worker may bring a spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21 under the H-4 classification. However, family members are not eligible to work in the U.S.

Countries eligible for H-2A visas

These are the Latin American countries eligible to participate in the H-2B program in 2021:

Argentina

Brazil

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

Ecuador

El Salvador

Guatemala

Honduras

Mexico

Nicaragua

Panama

Paraguay

Peru

Uruguay

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