Action taken Wednesday by the Trump administration would give producers a wider pool of H-2A workers to hire for temporary ag labor.
A new temporary final rule announced today would allow H-2A petitioners concerned about travel restrictions prohibiting H-2A workers from entering the country to hire H-2A workers already in the country, something previously prohibited under the program’s regulations.
The news was announced in a joint release from the departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security. In a statement, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue called the flexibilities “critically important as we continue to see travel and border restrictions as a result of COVID-19.”
Producers who petition the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services concerning the availability of their H-2A workers would be allowed to hire those already in the U.S. “immediately after USCIS receives the petition,” the release noted. However, the H-2A workers could start work “no earlier than the start date of employment listed on the petition.”
“To take advantage of this time-limited change in regulatory requirements, the H-2A worker seeking to change employers must already be in the United States and in valid H-2A status,” USDA and DHS noted. “Agricultural employers should utilize this streamlined process if they are concerned with their ability to bring in the temporary workers who were previously authorized to work for the employer in H-2A classification.”
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USCIS is also “temporarily amending” regulations to allow workers to stay in the country beyond the current three-year maximum.
“This Administration has determined that continued agricultural employment, currently threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, is vital to maintaining and securing the country’s critical food supply chain,” Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said. “The temporary changes announced by USCIS provide the needed stability during this unprecedented crisis.”
The State Department has previously said it would allow eligible H-2A applicants to waive interviews after concerns about the closure of foreign consulates impacting the application approval process. Farm groups were also pushing for longer stays for H-2A workers and for the ability to hire workers already in the U.S. under expiring employment contracts.
The new regime will become effective immediately after publication in the Federal Register. According to USDA and DHS, H-2A workers will be able to stay “for a period of time not to exceed the validity point of the Temporary labor Certification.” DHS will issue another temporary final rule in the event the agency “determines that circumstances demonstrate a continued need for the temporary changes to the H-2A regulations.”
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