H2A Visas – Important Changes and Final Rules expected soon

A December 11, 2008 USCIS Update announces that the agency has finalized changes to H-2A regulations. This final rule will facilitate the H-2A process for employers by removing certain limitations.

U.S. employers may file an H-2A petition with USCIS if they have a shortage of available U.S. workers to fill temporary or seasonal agricultural jobs. Once the petition is approved, the employers can hire foreign workers to fill those jobs for a limited period of time. There is no cap limitation on H2A visas unlike the sister program H2B.

Key areas of reform addressed in the final rule include:

• Relaxing the current limitations on H-2A employers to petition for multiple, unnamed agricultural workers;
• Extending from 10 days to 30 days the time a temporary or seasonal agricultural worker may
remain in the country following the expiration of his or her temporary H-2A stay;
• Reducing from six months to three months the time an H-2A worker who has spent three years in the United States must reside and be physically present outside the United States before he or she is eligible to re-obtain H-2A status;
• Allowing H-2A workers, who are changing from one H-2A employer to another H-2A employer,
to begin work with the new petitioning employer upon the filing of a new H-2A petition,
provided the new employer is participating in USCIS’ E-Verify program;
• Prohibiting H-2A employers and recruiters from imposing certain fees on prospective H-2A
workers as a condition of employment;
• Requiring an approved temporary labor certification in connection with all H-2A petitions;
• Requiring employers to notify USCIS when H-2A workers fail to show up for work, complete the work more than 30 days early, are terminated, or abscond from the worksite; and
• Permitting the approval of H-2A petitions only for nationals of certain countries designated as
important to the operation of the program and appearing on a list to be published annually in the
Federal Register. The initial list of participating countries to be published simultaneously with
this Final Rule includes Mexico, Jamaica, and 26 others. DHS may allow on a case-by-case basis a worker from a country not on the list to be eligible for the H-2A program if such participation is in the U.S. interest.

This rule will also establish a land-border exit system pilot program requiring H-2A workers admitted through a port of entry participating in the pilot program to also depart through a participating port and to present designated biographic and/or biometric information upon departure.

In my opinion, some of the changes are very positive, while other issues remain to tested. We all agree that reform for the H2A system is needed and the proposed rules may not be sufficient at this time.