Mar 26, 2020
Breaking: Increased processing of H-2A visa holders OK’d by state department

Word came from Washington, D.C. on March 26 that the U.S. State Department has taken steps to increase processing of H-2A visa holders through consulates around the world – in particular the expansion of interview waiver eligibility to ensure that the majority of H-2A processing can continue.

The following information came from a source with the USDA:

“As you may be aware, USDA has been working diligently with DOL, DHS, and state to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce caused by COVID-19. Today, the state department took additional steps to increase processing of H-2 visa holders through consulates around the world.   

USDA applauds these modifications and the expansion of interview waiver eligibility to ensure that the majority of H-2 processing can continue. 

Specifically:

  • Secretary Mike Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview. 
  • Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no potential ineligibility.  
  • This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months (increased from 12 months), and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa.
  • We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview.

Attached you will find FAQs and a more complete summary.  Guidance can be found on https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/important-announcement-on-h2-visas.htm and is available at www.farmers.gov/manage/h2a

Please note: these activities relate to U.S. Consular activities. Where other countries have travel restrictions or lockdown policies in place, embassies generally operate by that local guidance. This may impact the application of this guidance. USDA encourages you to monitor the respective Embassy’s webpage for most up to date information. 

USDA continues to work with DOL, DHS and State to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce while protecting the health and safety of federal employees and the individuals seeking entry under the H-2 programs.  If there are specific labor related questions please email [email protected].”

Secretary Perdue applauds state department’s H-2 decision

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued the following statement in response to the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to authorize temporary waivers for in-person interviews for eligible H-2 visa applicants.

“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,” said Secretary Perdue. “H-2 labor is vital to the economy and food security of America – our farmers and producers depend on these workers to continue to feed and clothe the world.”

USDA has been directly engaged with the state department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure minimal disruption in H-2A and H-2B visa applications during these uncertain times. This administration is doing everything possible to maintain continuity of this critically important program. These flexibilities will allow our farmers and ranchers to utilize workers they have used in the past, or those who are already in the U.S., to get our food from the farm to our tables.”

Western Growers statement on the increased processing of H-2A visa holders

 In response to the steps taken by the State Department to increase processing of H-2A visa holders through consulates around the world – in particular, the expansion of interview waiver eligibility to ensure that the majority of H-2A processing can continue, Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia issued the following statement:

“Western Growers applauds Secretary Pompeo and the professionals of the U.S. State Department for taking a practical approach to meeting the critical workforce needs of American farmers while protecting the health and safety of State Department personnel.

“The steps taken by Secretary Pompeo ease the flow of guest workers at a time when our farmers are redoubling their efforts to provide our nation with safe, healthy, abundant and affordable food. We are grateful to Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Perdue and all those in the Administration who listened to the needs of the agriculture community in the midst of our present crisis, and acted swiftly to implement this common-sense solution.”

Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico.

United Fresh applauds decision on foreign worker processing

United Fresh Produce Association applauds the administration for the announcement to ease restrictions on H-2A and H-2B employees that play a vital role in our nation’s food system. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of the federal government released updated guidance for both workers and employers who utilize the H-2A and H-2B visa programs. This is a direct result of United Fresh’s actions to ensure that all foreign workers in agriculture are recognized as vital and essential to our nation’s food supply. 

“United Fresh members play an essential role in ensuring the safety of the nation and the world’s food security,“ said Tom Stenzel ,president and CEO of United Fresh. “We are grateful for the administration’s recognition of our part in keeping food moving from farm to table. We will continue to monitor the implementation and application of these revised regulations and ensure that the fresh fruit and vegetable industry has access to the workers that keep our food economy going during these uncertain times.”

The announcement by USDA on behalf of the federal government includes prioritization for agricultural workers attempting to enter the United States under an H-2A or H-2B visa, regardless of their previous work history. Details of the announcement can be found here.

Produce Marketing Association supports move

Produce Marketing Association’s Richard Owen, vice president of global membership and engagement, has released a statement regarding the regulatory changes easing the H-2A visa process. His statement is below.

“The Produce Marketing Association is pleased to see that yesterday the state department took additional steps to increase processing of H-2 visa holders through consulates around the world. With the expansion of interview waiver eligibility, the majority of H-2 processing can continue. This decision will ensure the flow of labor necessary for the produce industry to continue to provide fresh and healthy products to consumers.”

American Farm Bureau reacts

The following statement came from American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall:

“We applaud the administration for recognizing the contributions H-2A and H-2B workers make on farms across this country to ensure Americans have access to healthy, affordable food. Acknowledging the critical role of immigrant farm laborers by expanding the number eligible for visas protects the public health while ensuring families continue to have access to a stable food source.

“America’s farmers and ranchers are committed to feeding America’s families during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Workers in the H-2A program represent 20% of the country’s farm workforce, so their contributions are necessary as we enter a critical time in the planting season.”

Background:

On March 18, 2020, the United States suspended routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa processing services in Mexico.

258,000 H-2A workers were approved to work in the U.S. in 2019.

93% of H-2A laborers came from Mexico in 2018

Gary Pullano, FGN managing editor


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