If you own or operate a business in the agriculture industry then you can hire temporary foreign laborers through the government’s H-2A foreign labor program. The program is for workers from a list of eligible countries. It is possible to petition for workers from non-listed countries, but the petition would need to demonstrate non-availability of U.S. workers and workers from H-2A eligible countries.
The H-2A visa is for seasonal temporary positions in the agriculture industry. Common qualifying businesses include farm, ranch, orchard, and greenhouse laborers, fishery operators and fish processors, loggers, shepherds, etc. The visa is good for up to ten months per year, the other two of which the worker should leave the country.
There are a number of requirements for H-2A employers that must be affirmed to the DOL and in the required contract with each worker. All foreign workers must be paid on par with similar U.S. workers in the area. The H-2A program requires employers to provide free and adequate housing for H-2A employees and U.S. employees who cannot reasonably drive home after work. This housing must pass an onsite inspection for applicable safety standards. Transportation to and from the worksite must be provided, as must the workers’ travel and return expenses to their home countries along with their meals during the voyage. The employer must guarantee each employer that work will be available for at least the number of hours equal to 75% of the workdays in the contract period, known as the 3/4 guarantee.
The H-2A application involves correspondence with numerous agencies and the coordination of different recruitment methods, so start the process at least 90 days before your anticipated start date. It begins with an attorney conference to determine the best job category to file under. The next step is to correspond with the State Workforce Agency (SWA) in your state. That agency will post a job order on the correct job search site and inspect the worker housing. The next step is to attain Temporary Employment Certification (TEC) from the Department of Labor (DOL). The TEC process requires forms, the coordination of a newspaper and recruitment campaign, and certain attestations to be made. Only after attaining DOL approval can the employer begin the actual immigration application with the USCIS. An approximate timeline is as follows:
- Attorney processing (2-3 days)
- SWA correspondence (6-10 days)
- DOL correspondence, including recruitment effors (25-35 days)
- USCIS application (25-35 days)
- Consulate processing (14-21 days)