H2A and H2B Visas for Non-immigrant Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic
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The Covis-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on worldwide travel as well as the economy. So many people around the world have been affected both from a health perspective and a financial one. People have lost their livelihoods, businesses have gone bankrupt and many industries have been devastatingly impacted by travel bans, where foreign workers would usually be recruited on temporary contracts to deliver key work.
The agricultural industry is of course an essential one that maintains the food supply chain across the world. In the US, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Labor are working together to ensure that there is as little disruption to the food supply chain as possible, during the pandemic. It is unknown as to when travel restrictions are likely to be lifted or whether some states will have different restrictions to others, so US authorities are working towards some temporary solutions, including:
Transferring onto another employer’s labor certification
The USDA and DOL are working in unison to identify workers that are eligible for transferring to employers in other agricultural sectors within the US. At the present time, there are approximately 20,000 workers on H-2A and H-2B visas that have contracts that are due to expire in the near future. These workers could be able to transfer to work for another employer under their labor certification.
Employers are being encouraged to visit the farmers.gov website to get updates on the support that is being offered during the unprecedented impact of Covid-19. They can find details of certified worker positions that are becoming available, as well as lots of supporting resources.
Additional H-2B visas released
Another temporary solution to preventing disruption to the food supply chain is the release of an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for the second half of FY 2020. These visas are available to employers that are affected financially by not being able to fill the number of jobs that are requested via the Form I-129 petition.
As part of this change, the DOL will be completing more site visits to prevent the abuse of the system.
Which countries are eligible to participate in the H-2B program?
The H-2B program is currently limited to the employment of nationals from the following countries:
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- El Salvador
- North Macedonia
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- San Marino
- Solomon Islands
- South Africa
- South Korea
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- United Kingdom
To keep fully up to date with the USCIS response to Covid-19, you should regularly check the USCIS website for the latest news and changes to visa allocations.