Third quarter data from the Department of Labor (DOL) shows H-2A applications were processed effectively and in a timely manner even during the early onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Veronica Nigh, economist with American Farm Bureau.
“With as much transition as there was for just the physical staff up here in D.C. and DOL, going from working in person to doing remote work, I think it would have been very much expected to see the percentage of applications fall off on that ‘timeliness’ percentage but it hung right in there,” Nigh said. “I think that certainly reflects the recognition of the importance of the program.”
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-2A program allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Florida is the largest user of the H2A program during the first three quarters of the year. It listed 28,005 certified positions. Georgia, another user of the program, listed a little more than 23,000 certified positions.
“Certainly, the Southeast is a big user of the program,” Nigh said.
One of the stats that Nigh was most encouraged with was the percentage of applications that were processed in a “timely” manner, which happens when an application is resolved 30 days before the needed start date. For the period from April 1 through June 30, 96% of applications were processed in a “timely” manner, compared to 86% in the third quarter in 2019 and 90% in 2018.
“I think there was a lot of interest from us and all the other farm groups and certainly our farm members about whether or not some of the delays they saw and some of the concerns we had earlier in the year about H-2A, whether or not folks were actually able to get the workers that their farms needed,” Nigh said. “What that data showed was, my goodness, the demand for H-2A and the processing of applications certainly continued to be high and showed growth from last year. For the number of certified positions, it was up 4% compared to the third quarter of 2019, which is, I think, surprising given all the concerns there were.”
Nigh said flexibilities were given to the processing of H-2A applications. Normally, an interview was required before a Visa was issued, but that was waived for H-2A workers. Also, if workers were already in the U.S. but had a Visa about to expire, the government allowed them to apply for a different position.
“If you combine all of that, the deeming of them as essential workers; known applicants not having to do an in-person interview; making border travel easier for those folks; extending time in the U.S. for those who were already present; it really had the impact of making sure folks were able to continue to get to the U.S. to work and stay here. Therefore, the H-2A program was able to continue,” Nigh said.
Nigh said more than 90% of H2A workers come from Mexico.