The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Wednesday 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 (COVID-19) public health emergency.
According to a release from the USDA, these temporary flexibilities will not weaken or eliminate protections for U.S. workers.
Under this temporary final rule, the release states, 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 United States 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 release states, the H-2A worker seeking to change employers must already be in the United States 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 United States.
These temporary changes will encourage and facilitate the continued lawful employment of foreign temporary and seasonal agricultural workers during the COVID-19 national emergency, states the USDA.
The USDA says 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.
The USDA states that at no point is it acceptable for employers to hire illegal aliens.