The Trump administration is loosening regulatory restrictions on employees seeking to hire immigrant farmworkers under the H-2A visa program during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a temporary final rule allowing foreign national workers already in the U.S. with H-2A seasonal visas to switch employers without official approval and to stay in the country longer than the visa's typical three-year duration. For more information, you can view the unpublished draft of the rule here.

H-2A workers are typically approved to work in yearlong increments for a maximum of three years, and then they must spend time in their home countries before returning to the U.S.

DHS said that the changes are intended to help agricultural employers concerned that border restrictions implemented as a result of the pandemic will leave their farms without enough workers.

During the Covid-19 national emergency, maintaining agriculture workers is particularly important as the country endeavors to avoid disruptions in the food supply chain.

U.S. farmers rely heavily on the seasonal guest-worker visas, which account for a sizeable portion of the legal migrant farm workforce. Recognizing the importance of having enough H-2A workers, the Administration has taken steps to simplify the process, including:

  • Waiver of certain regulatory timeframes;
  • Employers may have workers perform duties not specifically listed on the work orders;
  • Employers may move workers to different worksites; and
  • Flexibility with start dates and deadlines.

The temporary final rule is effective immediately and is expected to remain in effect until Aug. 18. At that date, it may be extended.

COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:

The temporary rule provides us with a roadmap to the DHS’ plan to ease restrictions on hiring immigrant farm workers during the Covid-19 crisis. If you have questions about the new H-2A rule and the impact on your company, contact the experts at the Saqui Law Group, a division of Dowling Aaron Incorporated.

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