The most commonly used agricultural visa is the H-2A nonimmigrant visa, which allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural labor or services.

In order to qualify for an H-2A visa, several criteria must first be satisfied by the hiring employer.Figure 1* on the next page describes this fairly complicated and cumbersome process.

The H-2A visa has not garnered much support in the agricultural community due to its rigid requirements. Agricultural employers do not like the limits of the visa, and immigrant rights groups do not believe that the program provides enough support to workers. Typically, less than 40,000 H-2A visas are requested and issued on an annual basis. Workers’ spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 are allowed to enter the U.S. with the H-2A worker in H-4 status. However, dependents are not eligible to work unless they individually qualify for a work visa.

If an agricultural employer has a need to employ professional workers in a specialized area, the H-1B and TN visas are other available options. However, the H-1B visa category is capped at 65,000 visas per year, which typically are exhausted within a matter of days after the April 1 window opens each year. The TN visa, available to Mexican and Canadian professionals, while not subject to an annual cap, is only available in one-year increments and must be renewed annually.

The need for immigration reform, which appears to have fallen on deaf ears with Congress, has had a dramatic impact on the dairy and farming communities. It is estimated that approximately 75 percent of the foreign agricultural workforce is undocumented. Interest in revising U.S. immigration policy on agricultural “guest workers” is growing. Many supporters of expanding the H-2A program argue that it must include a legalization provision for the program to be successful. Opponents of immigration reform view any “amnesty” for undocumented workers as a deal-breaker. It is easy to see how this controversial issue remains deadlocked in Congress. But the bottom line remains: How long can Congress continue to ignore the issue? It certainly isn’t going to go away any time soon.


Note: On February 7, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed rules to modernize the H-2A program. The proposed changes to the H-2A program are designed to provide farmers with an orderly and timely flow of legal workers and increase protections for both U.S. and foreign workers. Once the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register, the public will have 45 days to submit comments on the proposed rules. The comments will be reviewed by the DOL, and a final rule published in the Federal Register prior to the rules becoming effective. Watch for updates in future issues of Progressive Dairyman.

Figure omitted but is available upon request to

Victoria Seltun
Attorney for Weld, Riley, Prenn & Ricci, S.C.