By: Coleman Jackson, Attorney & Certified Public Accountant
May 14, 2020
The H-2A nonimmigrant visa classification has been around for a very long time. See Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 101(a)(15)(ii)(a), 8 U.S.C. 1101. The H-2A foreign agricultural workers visa; known as H-2A is more in the public eye right now due to the media’s focus on the rise of Covid-19 cases in meat packing plants, on farms and in rural America potentially resulting in food supply chain disruptions. The concern of the coronavirus’ disruption of the food supply is very real and it is of grave concern to the well being of farmers’ bringing their goods to market and to their fellow citizens ability to feed their families. In a nutshell, the foreign agricultural workers program known as the H-2A Visa permits agricultural employers to fill shortages in the available work force by following certain procedures to lawfully bring foreigners to the United States temporarily to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work. The Department of Homeland Security defers to the U.S. Department of Labor with respect to defining what work falls into the categories of temporary and seasonal agricultural work. Historically, the Department of Labor has defined “agricultural labor” as such duties as hauling and delivery on the farm, harvesting, cultivating and planting seed. Foreign workers on H-2A Visas has historically also worked as sheep herders, goat tenders, cattle raisers, poultry farmers and in other occupations typically in rural areas of America where various kinds of animals are raised for market. The point is that agricultural workers are not limited to farms performing task around a farm; foreign workers on H-2A Visas work on plantations, ranches, nurseries, meat packing plants, greenhouses, orchards, and as truck drivers and delivery drivers on these or other similar locations. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has defined the term temporary agricultural work as no more than 12 months or employment of a seasonal nature tied to a certain time of the year, event or pattern.
There was-and-still-is a very regimented step-by-step process that agricultural employers must follow to bring foreign farm laborers to work on their farms, ranches, meat packing plants or similar locations; which begins with a petition filed with their state workforce commission; then they go to the DOL for labor certification that there is a lack of available domestic workers to perform the intended project; once the employer receives the DOL Labor Certification they file a request with the Department of Homeland Security; and upon approval, the foreign worker petitions the Consulate’s Office in their country to obtain the H2-A Visa to come to America and work on a specific temporary or seasonally project for less than 12 months. The H-2A visa is valid for 3 years.
This process has been relaxed and modified somewhat. Covid-19 has created the necessity to impose travel restrictions, stay at home orders and caused lots-and-lots of tremendous pain, loss and suffering throughout the country. In response to anticipated disruptions and uncertainties in the U.S. food supply and the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 epidemic in rural America; the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published temporary amended regulations regarding temporary and seasonal agricultural workers and their U.S. employers in the H-2A nonimmigrant agricultural workers classification. These final regulations are published in 85 FR 21739 and is effective from April 20, 2020 through August 18, 2020.The following are the major amendments to the normal process that historically were used by domestic farmers to bring foreign nonimmigrant workers to work temporarily on their farms, ranches, meat packing plants and other similar locations under the H-2A Agricultural Workers program:
- The H-2A regulations were temporarily amended to permit all H-2A employers to allow nonimmigrants who currently hold a valid H-2A visa status to start working upon the receipt of the employer’s new H-2A petition, but not earlier than the start date of employment listed on their H-2A petition.
- The H-2A regulations were temporarily amended to permit all H-2A workers to immediately work for any new H-2A employer, but not earlier than the start date of employment listed on the H-2A petition filed during the Covid-19 National Emergency.
- The H-2A regulations were temporarily amended to create a temporary exception to 8 CFR 24.2 to allow nonimmigrants to extend their H-2A period of stay beyond the three-year limitations without first requiring that the immigrant leave the United States and remain outside of the United States for an uninterrupted period of three months. It is important that an H-2A petition for an extension of stay with a new employer must have been filed with USCIS on or after March 1, 2020 and remain pending as of April 20, 2020.
- H-4 nonimmigrants who are the spouses and children of an H-2A agricultural worker visa holders are beneficiaries of these same amendments noted in one through three above. H-4 visa holders’ admission and limitations of stay are dependent on the validity of the H-2A visa holders’ status and they must be otherwise admissible.
Moreover, as a practical matter, certain in-person interview requirements at the Consulate Offices have been eased during this Covid-19 National Emergency to facilitate foreign workers traveling into the United States. H-2A workers fall under the ‘essential worker’ category of critical worker and probably are exempt from the stay-at-home, travel restrictions and other measures imposed by local, state and federal governmental agencies during this Covid-19 National Emergency.
Foreign agricultural workers on H-2A visas are subject to the United States federal tax laws but they are exempt from withholding of U.S. federal income taxes, social security taxes and Medicare taxes on compensation paid to them for services performed in connection to their H-2A agricultural worker visa status. If they receive more than $600 in compensation, the foreign nonimmigrant worker must receive a Form W-2 from their employer which exempts social security and Medicare taxes. Typically, the worker files Form 1040-NR and the employer must report the wages of its agricultural nonimmigrant workers on Form 943, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees and file all other appropriate tax returns with local, state and federal taxing authorities. Most of the modified filing, payment and reporting deadlines announced by the U.S. Treasury and Internal Revenue Service during this Covid-19 National Emergency applies to H-2A agricultural workers and their employers.
This law blog is written by the Taxation | Litigation | Immigration Law Firm of Coleman Jackson, P.C. for educational purposes; it does not create an attorney-client relationship between this law firm and its reader. You should consult with legal counsel in your geographical area with respect to any legal issues impacting you, your family or business.
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