Mar 26, 2020
Increased H-2A visa processing OK’d by State Department

Word came from Washington, D.C. March 26 that the U.S. State Department has taken steps to increase processing of H-2A via 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 travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/important-announcement-on-h2-visas.htm and 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, email [email protected].

National Potato Council response

The National Potato Council (NPC) has been pushing for H-2A guest worker action in recent weeks. NPC CEO Kam Quarles lauded the development.

“The inability for H-2A guest workers to cross the border would seriously harm growers at one of the most vulnerable times of the year,” he said in a statement. “Today’s announcement should clear the visa bottlenecks and avert that crisis. This is a very positive development and the direct result of the focused attention of Secretary Perdue and Senator Jim Risch (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) with the State Department.”

Western Growers reacts

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.”

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

United Fresh reaction

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.

— Gary Pullano, contributing editor

Top photo — Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) speaks on agriculture labor reform in Washington, D.C. during the National Potato Council’s D.C. Fly-In in February. Photo: Bill Schaefer Photography






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