US H-2A Seasonal or Temporary Agricultural Work Visas
H-2A visas enable foreign workers to enter the United States for seasonal, or temporary, agricultural work, when there is a shortage of domestic workers.
H2-A Seasonal or Temporary Agricultural Work Visas
This type of work visa is obtained by employers for individuals who will be working in the United States. Before seeking H2-A visas for foreign workers, employers must actively recruit American workers and agree to give preference to American workers over foreign workers.
When an H2-A visa is obtained, it is valid for 364 days. Foreign workers employed under H2-A visas are mandated by law to receive the same workers' rights as American workers, including workers' compensation insurance, fair pay, housing, and transportation.
H-2A Visa Requirements
In order to obtain an H2-A visa, an employer must ensure that:
- The job is temporary or seasonal (usually based on agricultural periods)
- The usage of H2-A employees will not have a negative effect on the working conditions, including the wages, of United States workers employed in similar fields
- He or she can prove they have sought American workers first and that there is not a sufficient number of domestic workers to be employed
- The company is appropriately certified by the U.S. Department of Labor with a temporary Labor Certification
The list of countries eligible for H2-A visas is updated yearly by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State. Many countries from Europe, Central America, and Asia are included, though the overwhelming majority of visas have historically been issued to Mexican workers. Effective January 18, 2018, nationals from these countries are eligible to participate in the H-2A program.
Process for Applying for an H-2A Visa
- Step 1: Petitioner submits temporary labor certification application to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Before requesting H-2A classification from USCIS, the petitioner must apply for and receive a temporary labor certification for H-2A workers from DOL. For further information regarding the temporary labor certification requirements and process, see the Foreign Labor Certification, Department of Labor Web page.
- Step 2: Petitioner submits Form I-129 to USCIS. After receiving a temporary labor certification for H-2A employment from DOL, the petitioner must file Form I-129 with USCIS. With limited exceptions, the petitioner must submit original temporary labor certification as initial evidence with Form I-129. (See the instructions to Form I-129 for additional filing requirements.)
- Step 3: Prospective workers outside the United States apply for a visa and/or admission. After USCIS approves Form I-129, prospective H-2A workers who are outside the United States must:
- Apply for an H-2A visa with the U.S. Department of State (DOS) at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad and then seek admission to the United States with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a U.S. port of entry; or
- Directly seek admission to the United States in H-2A classification with CBP at a U.S. port of entry, if a worker does not require a visa in cases where an H-2A visa is not required.
Authorized Period of Stay
USCIS will grant H-2A Visas for any period of time authorized with the temporary labor certification up to one year. H-2A Visas may be extended for additional employment one year at a time, with a maximum three year period of stay.
Each extension, however, requires a new temporary labor certification. After holding H-2A status for three years, the foreign national must leave and remain outside of the United States for three months before applying for readmission under H-2A status. Any previous time spent in any H or L Visas also counts toward total H-2A authorization time.
An H-2A worker’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may seek admission in H-4 nonimmigrant classification. Family members are not eligible for employment in the United States while in H-4 status.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.