The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made an announcement to allow more H-2A flexibility, with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The temporary final rule will augment certain H-2A requirements to help American ag employers mitigate disruption to agricultural employment and avoid any interruption in the food supply chain.
“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 Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf said in a news release. “The temporary changes announced by [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] provide the needed stability during this unprecedented crisis.”
The amended H-2A flexibility will allow farm employers who have applied for H-2A permits to employ H-2A workers who are already in the U.S. as soon as the petition is submitted. The temporary final rule also allows H-2A workers to remain in the U.S. for longer than the federally regulated three-year period. USDA is encouraging employers who are concerned about the ability to acquire seasonal foreign workers to engage in the streamlined H-2A process.
“Providing flexibility for H-2A employers to utilize H-2A workers that are currently in the United States is critically important as we continue to see travel and border restrictions as a result of COVID-19,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “USDA continues to work with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor and the Department of State to minimize disruption and make sure farmers have access to these critical workers necessary to maintain the integrity in our food supply.”
The temporary final rule becomes effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Once an H-2A worker’s new petition is approved it will allow the worker to remain in the U.S. for a time dictated by the Temporary Labor Certification. DHS will monitor the labor situation to determine if further changes will be needed.