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What Is an H-2A Visa?

The H-2A visa is similar to the H-2B visa, except it is for a foreign citizen doing temporary agricultural work that is seasonal in nature. By contrast, the H-2B visa allows foreign citizens to work temporarily in non-agricultural jobs that are seasonal, peak load, or a one-time incidence. H-2A visas are administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

H-2A workers may perform a variety of agricultural tasks. Most seasonal agricultural workers visas are certified in six states: Florida, Georgia, Washington, California, North Carolina, and Louisiana.

H-2A Visa Benefits

There are some significant benefits of obtaining an H-2A visa. They include the following:

  • The employee’s family may live with them in the United States.
  • Visa holders may travel in and out of the United States as needed.
  • The visa is valid for at least one year and may be extended for another two years.

Who Qualifies for an H-2A Visa?

Seasonal agricultural workers who wish to obtain H-2A visas and their employers must meet certain requirements, including the following:

  • A U.S. employer must file the application requesting foreign citizens for seasonal agricultural labor.
  • The employer must be a partnership, corporation, or individual proprietorship.
  • The employee must have a valid job offer from a U.S. employer.
  • The employee must have evidence of intent to return to their home country upon completion of the work and expiration of the visa.

Additionally, the employer must prove that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to provide the specific labor. The H-2A workers’ wages also must not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

What Countries Qualify for H-2A Visas?

Employees who want to obtain H-2A visas must be from a qualifying country.  The United States periodically considers adding countries to the eligible countries list when it receives recommendations from the U.S. Department of State or a written request from an unlisted foreign government, an employer, or another interested party. If your country is not listed here, obtaining an H-2A visa and working in the United States as a seasonal agricultural worker may still be possible.

Limitations on the H-2A Visa

While there are certainly benefits, there are some challenges faced by employers and employees who seek H-2A visa status. Those include the following:

  • The visa holder’s dependents and relatives cannot work while in the United States with them.
  • There is a mandatory 45-day waiting period between the application and issuance of the visa.
  • Changes in the availability of U.S. citizens for agricultural work may result in denial of an application or extension.

What About Family of H-2A Workers?

A spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may seek admission through an H-4 nonimmigrant classification while a person is in the United States working on an H-2A visa. These dependents can stay as long as the foreign labor certification holder is authorized to remain in the country.

H-2A Visa Process

There are a series of steps involved with the standard filing process for hiring H-2A workers. The total process takes around 75 days and includes the following.

  1. The employer applies for a domestic job order with the local State Workforce Agency.
  2. The employer applies for temporary labor certification with the DOL.
  3. The DOL provides the employer with a determination.
  4. The employer completes the H-2A visa petition with the USCIS.
  5. Workers apply for the H-2A visa with the Department of State and complete consulate interviews.
  6. Approved workers travel to the worksite.

How Many H-2A Visas Are Granted Annually?

The most recent year in which statistics are available for H-2A visas is 2021. That year, the DOL certified about 317,000 temporary jobs under the H-2A visa program. However, only 258,000 visas were issued under the program.

The average H-2A contract offered 24 weeks of employment at 39.3 hours per week and an average hourly wage of $13.

How Long Can H-2A Visa Holders Stay in the U.S.?

An H-2A visa holder may stay in the United States for as long as the temporary labor is needed, typically one year or less. However, you can apply for an extension for qualifying increments for up to two additional years.

Each extension request requires a new valid temporary labor certification. After three years total, you must go outside the United States for at least three months before returning.

Additionally, it’s important to know that certain periods of time spent outside the United States may “interrupt” an H-2A visa holder’s authorized stay and not be counted towards the three-year limit.

What Are the Fees?

There are multiple fees that must be incurred by the employer who wishes to hire foreign workers with H-2A visas. Some of those include the following:

  • Labor Certification Processing for Sole Employers – $100 application fee, plus $10 per certified worker (not to exceed $1,000)
  • Non-Immigrant Worker Petition Filing Fee – $460
  • Consulate Fee – $190 per worker (workers must be reimbursed for this on their first paycheck)
  • Border Stamp Fee – $6 per worker
  • Agent Fee – Approximately $100 per worker
  • Transportation from home country to work site – cost varies
  • Weekly travel to and from the grocery store – cost varies
  • Association Fee (if applicable) – $200
  • Housing and Livable Fittings – Approximately $9,000 to $13,000 per worker (cost varies)

The government requires employers to pay these employees at least minimum wage and take care of their travel, housing, and more. There are certain expenses that the employer can seek to receive payment from workers for. However, you cannot deduct expenses for attorney or agent fees, application fees, and recruitment costs.

Consult an H-2A Visa Lawyer for Help

If you would like to apply for an H-2A visa or seek a change of visa status, you should immediately contact an H-2A work visa lawyer. You have many options on how to proceed. You need someone who understands immigration services law and will use that knowledge to benefit your case.

Call American Immigration Law Group today at 314-416-8000 or use our online contact form to reach out and schedule a consultation.