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Changes made to streamline H-2A processChanges made to streamline H-2A process

Agricultural groups welcome online approval platform that is expected to increase efficiencies in H-2A application process.

Jacqui Fatka

May 11, 2016

3 Min Read
Changes made to streamline H-2A process

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced the launch of two agricultural groups’ promoted initiatives designed to streamline and bring bureaucratic efficiencies to the H-2A application process.

“These visa approval delays have gone on far too long and cost farmers across the country hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business. Without workers in place to plant, tend and harvest, crops are going to waste while bureaucratic paperwork keeps piling up,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.

The first announcement involves the launch of the USCIS/DOS e-Approval for Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) for the H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) classification. The new electronic process will allow USCIS to send approval information for H-2A petitions to DOS by the end of the next business day. DOS will accept this electronic information in place of a Form I-797 approval notice allowing consular posts to proceed with interviews and processing H-2A applications. The new process began on Wednesday, May 11.

Coinciding with the launch of USCIS/DOS e-Approval, USCIS will begin using pre-paid mailers provided by petitioners to send out receipt notices for H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) petitions starting on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. The agencies revised how they process pre-paid mailers for H-2A petitions and communicate approvals with one another in recognition of stakeholder interest in expediting the delivery of receipt notices and processing of petitions for the very time-sensitive H-2A classification. This is a change from standard processing at USCIS service centers, which normally use pre-paid mailers only for final decision notices.

“Farm Bureau raised the flag on this major breakdown in our food-growing system in hopes that agencies would find an immediate solution, and we believe USCIS and DOS are taking an important step to bring the H-2A processing system into the 21st century. However, farmers across the country are still experiencing delays due to this backlog that spans multiple agencies. We will continue to work with congressional leaders and the agencies to ensure farmers get workers by their date of need,” Duvall stated.

Congress’ inability and unwillingness to move immigration reform have forced farmers to use the H-2A Program, a program that has historically seen little use, particularly in California. Although it is the only federal program that allows farmers to hire a legal workforce to harvest their crops, the program is well known to be slow, inefficient, bureaucratic and costly.  

Western Growers members are currently in Washington D.C. for the association’s annual board fly-in. Western Growers president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif heralded the announcements as progress and good start to overhauling the program. He said high on the list of issues members are discussing with members the needs to simplify the H-2A program.

“Just last month, our Chairman and members of our board met with officials from each of the processing agencies to hear our concerns and solutions. We greatly appreciated their willingness to do so and are very pleased that they heard us,” Nassif said. “Western Growers looks forward to continued engagement with USCIS, DOS and the U.S. Department of Labor as we continue to press them on implementing our other recommended streamlining measures so that our farmers can continue to provide citizens of the U.S. and the world with the freshest and best produce on the planet.”   

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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