The U.S. State Department has addressed the H-2A issue that was created when the U.S. suspended routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa processing services in Mexico in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After hearing concerns from several agricultural groups about how this would negatively impact the agriculture industry, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security has worked to ensure that labor needs are met by issuing certain waivers for eligible first-time and returning H-2A and H-2B applicants.
“Temporarily waiving in-person interviews for H-2 visa applicants streamlines the application process and helps provide steady labor for the agriculture sector during this time of uncertainty,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “H-2 labor is vital to the economy and food security of America – our farmers and producers depend on these workers to continue to feed and clothe the world.”
Consular offices have been authorized to expand the categories of visa applicants that have applications that can be processed without the necessity of an in-person interview. The State Department is anticipating that the majority of qualified H-2A and H-2B applicants will now be processed at a much quicker pace. The temporary waivers for in-person interviews should address the H-2A issue and help keep agricultural operations running with the workforce that is required.
“Acknowledging the critical role of immigrant farm laborers by expanding the number eligible for visas protects the public health while ensuring families continue to have access to a stable food source,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “Workers in the H-2A program represent 20% of the country’s farm workforce, so their contributions are necessary as we enter a critical time in the planting season.”
In 2018, 95 percent of H-2A workers came from Mexico, with 258,000 H-2A laborers approved to work in the U.S. last year. USDA is encouraging anyone with questions about the H-2A program to find more information through its online resource.