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U.S. moves to loosen requirements for H-2 visa applicants

Move made to ensure steady stream of labor for agriculture sector during COVID-19.

In order to meet a critical need, U.S. consular officers have been directed to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be judged without an in-person interview.

Consular officers can waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility of potential ineligibility.

The expansion granted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months, and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa.

“Temporarily waiving in-person interviews for H-2 visa applicants streamlines the application process and helps provide steady labor for the agriculture sector during this time of uncertainty,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “H-2 labor is vital to the economy and food security of America.”

“We applaud the administration for recognizing the contributions H-2A and H-2B workers make on farms across this country to ensure Americans have access to healthy, affordable food," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. "Acknowledging the critical role of immigrant farm laborers by expanding the number eligible for visas protects the public health while ensuring families continue to have access to a stable food source."

On March 18, 2020, the U.S. suspended routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa processing services in Mexico, Reuters reported. In 2019, 258,000 H-2A workers were approved to work in the U.S., the American Farm Bureau Federation reports. In 2018, 93% of H-2A laborers came from Mexico.

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