Agricultural Workers and Immigration

Between one and three million migrant workers travel to the United States each year following crops that are ready for harvest, a contemporary version of the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath, which told the story of the Joad family’s similar exhausting quest.

Migrant farmworkers do not have a permanent place of residence, and instead travel where they can find work. These workers not only farm fields, both planting and harvesting crops, but also pick orchard fruits, work in canneries, and plant seedlings in nurseries. They are guests working in the United States under the federal H-2A program. Workers from 63 nations are eligible to apply for this program.

Workers under the H-2A agricultural program are able to enter the United States under section 218 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes the temporary admission of workers to perform seasonal or temporary agricultural work if an employer is unable to find able, willing, and qualified workers in the United States to fill the positions available. In 2018, more than 240,000 H-2A visas were granted, a record number, and a 21% increase from the previous year.

What Steps do Employers and Prospective Workers Have to Take?

In order to be hire workers under the H-2A program, employers must petition the government’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), after applying for and receiving a temporary labor certification for the H-2A workers from the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) that shows proof the employer has attempted to find U.S. workers to fill those positions. Employers must provide housing, as well as transportation to and from the worksite. This is a complicated process with several steps required of both employers and prospective workers, such as:

  • Various administrative components for employers include submission of temporary labor certification application to the DOL, clearance order from state workforce agency, and filing of form I-129 with USCIS.
  • Prospective workers outside the U.S. find a company in the U.S. that needs temporary workers, which is usually word of mouth or through a job fair.
  • Once the worker has been offered a job – and has a written contract that includes details about wages, hours, benefits and deductions, the applicant completes the DS-160 visa application form and submits it along with a $190 fee.
  • Applicants must make a visa appointment, which requires a valid passport as well as a valid petition number, and a receipt of payment for the visa application fee.
  • The applicants must attend the in-person interview at a U.S. consulate in their home country, where consular officers will evaluate their admissibility to the U.S. Applicants may be asked questions about arrests records, and other information that was gathered.
  • If approved, a worker will then travel to the U.S. and apply for admission as an H-2 worker.  In order to land one of these jobs, migrant workers must apply for temporary work visas that allow them to enter the country legally.

Workers will stay in the United States as long as they have been authorized to work for their specific employer, and cannot seek other employment in the United States.

An Immigration Attorney Can Help Make the Hiring Process Easier

The hiring of an H-2A worker is a complex process. With 23 years of government immigration law experience, Sanchez-Roig Law, P.A., can make the process less challenging. Call us at 305-373-5385 today.