On Wednesday, April 15, the Department of Homeland Security, with the support of the USDA, announced a temporary final rule to change certain H-2A requirements to help U.S. agricultural employers avoid disruptions in lawful agricultural-related employment, protect the nation’s food supply chain, and lessen impacts from the coronavirus public health emergency. These temporary flexibilities will not weaken or eliminate protections for U.S. workers.
Under this temporary final rule, an H-2A petitioner with a valid temporary labor certification who is concerned that workers will be unable to enter the country due to travel restrictions can start employing certain foreign workers who are currently in H-2A status in the U.S. immediately after United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives the H-2A petition, but no earlier than the start date of employment listed on the petition. To take advantage of this time-limited change in regulatory requirements, the H-2A worker seeking to change employers must already be in the U.S. and in valid H-2A status.
Additionally, USCIS is temporarily amending its regulations to protect the country’s food supply chain by allowing H-2A workers to stay beyond the three-year maximum allowable period of stay in the U.S. These temporary changes are designed to encourage and facilitate the continued lawful employment of foreign temporary and seasonal agricultural workers during the COVID-19 national emergency. Agricultural employers should utilize this streamlined process if they are concerned with their ability to bring in the temporary workers who were previously authorized to work for the employer in H-2A classification.
Both United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association praised the announcement (full details of which can be found here), which they say will help U.S. agricultural employers have continued access to an essential labor force that will allow the fresh produce supply chain to continue to meet consumer demand.
It’s important to note that the nation needs to continue supporting the workers that grow, harvest, and pack the products that are vital to the food and plant supply. Check out this recent opinion piece written by AmericanHort’s Craig Regelbrugge for the Columbus Dispatch.