Congress Considers Reforms to H-2A and H-2B Work Visa Programs


The experts, who recently testified before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, stated that protections for the foreign guest workers who use the H-2A and H-2B temporary visa programs should be improved.

Rep. Alma Adams said that workers apply for H-2A and H-2B temporary visas to achieve economic opportunity, leave poor working conditions, and hopefully lead to a better life in the United States. However, he added that these visa programs often don’t fulfill these goals.

Leon Sequeira, an attorney representing employers of H-2A and H-2B workers, stated that H-2A and H-2B workers are well protected. The attorney claims this is because many regulations cover their employees, and only a small fraction of those employing these workers violate them. These violations are primarily technical paperwork violations.

The H-2 temporary work visa programs allow employers in the United States to obtain workers for vacant jobs where they have difficulty finding local workers. There is no cap for the H-2A program, and the visas remain valid for one year. In some cases, these visas are renewable, too. In contrast, H-2B visas have a cap of 66,000 per year. The initial visa is good for one year but is renewable in one-year increments for up to three years.

The H-2A program grew from 65,000 in 2012 to 258,000 in 2021. In addition, the number of H-2B workers will likely increase this year due to an additional 55,000 supplemental visas.

Among those who testified for better conditions for the H-2 visa participants were the director of immigration law and policy research from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. The director and companions claimed these workers faced abuse before reaching the United States, forced to pay hefty fees to labor recruiters before obtaining employment. This abuse leaves workers indebted to labor recruiters or third-party lenders. Also, some workers come to the United States and find their job does not exist. Some of these workers then become victims of human trafficking.

However, attorney Sequeira defended the H-2 programs. Attorney Sequeira stated that, though imperfect, they are an essential source of temporary and seasonal workers for thousands of farms and businesses. They also provide the workers with jobs that give them skills, experience, and money to support their families.

Not everyone agrees on what problems exist in the H-2 guest worker programs. However, currently pending legislation in Congress may change the H-2A program regardless. These bills would provide additional protections to H-2A workers, providing them a path to legal and permanent residency. The legislation would also offer undocumented farmworkers to obtain legal status. Additionally, it would provide more flexibility for employers, allowing them to use E-Verify for agricultural employment after legalization. It remains to be seen if this legislation will pass.

For employers that do hire guest workers, it is still necessary to complete Form I-9 for them. However, completing Form I-9 for these workers can be challenging due to the variety of documentation they can present. The easiest way to ensure accurate and completed Form I-9s is by using an electronic I-9 management system. This system guides employers through each step of the process, thus ensuring employers have correct, completed, and securely stored Form I-9s.

Automate your employment eligibility verification today with the ensured compliance of I-9 Compliance.