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H-2B Visa Update: DHS Relaxes Rules to Help Soften COVID-19’s Impact on Food Supply Chain


The Department of Homeland Security announced a temporary final rule to change certain H-2B requirements in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The current Administration enacted a temporary change to rules on H-2B guest workers to help beleaguered meatpacking plants keep those foreign employees in the United States as the companies deal with absenteeism and workers quarantined because of COVID-19 exposure.


The rule is set to last through May 15, 2023, to allow meat and poultry companies to rehire current H-2B employees whose work contracts or three-year visas are expiring. The companies also would be able to hire other H-2B workers with expiring visas who otherwise would have to return to their home countries. Employers and workers have until Sept. 11 this year to enter into new work contracts.


Workers with expired H-2B visas are generally required to spend three consecutive months out of the U.S. before applying for a new visa.


What Does the Rule Do?


The new rule would be the second time Homeland Security and the administration have adjusted regulations to help the food and agriculture industries retain foreign workers. In April, the department issued a temporary final rule to allow farmers facing delays in getting petitions approved for foreign agricultural labor to hire farm workers holding H-2A visas and already in the United States.


The rule allows an H-2B employer to employ an H-2B nonimmigrant physically present in the United States while the employer’s H-2B petition on behalf of that nonimmigrant is still pending before USCIS. The temporary employment authorization will last for up to 60 days.


The rule also allows H-2B workers essential to the U.S. food supply chain to stay beyond the three-year maximum allowable period of stay in the United States. This flexibility applies to petitions filed by the H-2B nonimmigrant’s current employer, as well as petitions filed by a potential new employer.


Press Release from USCIS:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a temporary final rule to change certain H-2B requirements to help support the U.S. food supply chain, maintain essential infrastructure operations and reduce the impact from the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. These temporary measures apply solely to aliens already present in the United States with a valid H-2B nonimmigrant status, and the temporary final rule does not increase H-2B visas above the congressionally mandated 66,000 visa cap through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2020.


“These necessary flexibilities will safeguard a critical U.S. infrastructure sector; reinforce security of the nation’s food supply chain; and encourage key American businesses to maintain essential operations currently threatened by the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said USCIS Deputy Director for Policy, Joseph Edlow. “Importantly, these measures protect U.S. workers by not adding supplemental H-2B visas during the national emergency.”


Under this temporary final rule, a petitioner will have additional flexibilities for employing workers essential to the U.S. food supply chain. To take advantage of this time-limited change in regulatory requirements, the H-2B worker must already be in the United States and in valid H2B status.


As part of the TLC process, the petitioning employer must have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Secretary of Labor that there is not a sufficient supply of qualified U.S. workers who will be available at the time and place needed to perform the labor or services involved in the petition. The employment of the alien(s) in such labor or services will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed.


There are two flexibilities in the temporary final rule.

  1. First, the rule allows an H-2B employer to employ an H-2B nonimmigrant physically present in the United States while the employer’s H-2B petition on behalf of that nonimmigrant is still pending before USCIS. The rule only provides this flexibility if the employer attests that the worker will perform temporary services or labor that is essential to the U.S. food supply chain. The temporary employment authorization will last for up to 60 days.

  2. Second, the rule allows H-2B workers essential to the U.S. food supply chain to stay beyond the three-year maximum allowable period of stay in the United States. This flexibility applies to petitions filed by the H-2B nonimmigrant’s current employer, as well as petitions filed by a potential new employer. The rule only provides this flexibility if the employer attests that the worker will perform temporary services or labor that is essential to the U.S. food supply chain. It is not acceptable for employers to hire illegal aliens.

A petitioner seeking the flexibilities under this temporary final rule will be required to submit an attestation, swearing under penalty of perjury, that the H-2B worker(s) will be performing temporary nonagricultural services or labor or that is essential to the U.S. food supply chain. The temporary final rule is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register.


DHS previously announced similar protections for American agricultural employers in order to secure the nation’s food supply chain. The H-2B nonimmigrant classification applies to alien workers seeking to perform nonagricultural services or labor of a temporary nature in the United States, usually lasting no longer than one year, for which able, willing and qualified U.S. workers are not available.


The Grady Firm works with dynamic employers and employees across the country to prepare successful employment-based visa and Green Card applications. In addition, we help individuals, families, employees, business owners, and investors obtain non-immigrant and immigrant visas (B-1/B2, H-1B, H-2B, L-1A, L-1B, O-1, TN, E-2, E-3), as well and Green Cards and citizenship based on family relationships, investment, or employment.

Click here to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with The Grady Firm’s attorneys; call +1 (949) 798-6298; or fill out a Contact Request Form.

This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. This article does not make any guarantees as to the outcome of a particular matter, as each matter has its own set of circumstances and must be evaluated individually by a licensed attorney.

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