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State Department Interview Waivers for H-2 Visas is Good News for Michigan Specialty Crops

FarmWorkersThe U.S. State Department has authorized officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants eligible to waive an in-person interview. Secretary Mike Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview.

Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. This expansion also 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.

Previous requirements stated that H-2 applicants were only interview-waiver eligible if their visa had expired in the last 12 months and they had not used an interview waiver previously.

The State Department anticipates the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview.

In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Department had temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates as of March 20.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to authorize temporary waivers for in-person interviews for eligible H-2 visa applicants means more H-2 visas will now be considered interview-waiver eligible, allowing for increased workforce access.

“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,” Perdue said in a statement. “H-2 labor is vital to the economy and food security of America – our farmers and producers depend on these workers to continue to feed and clothe the world.”

Perdue said USDA had been directly engaged with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure minimal disruption in H-2A and H-2B visa applications to maintain continuity of this critically important seasonal guestworker program.

According to Bob Boehm, general manager of Great Lakes Ag Labor Services, the announcement is expected to assist Michigan farmers to utilize workers they have used in the past or those who are already in the U.S.

“Although the Department of State had temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates, the Department has advised that H-2 applications are ‘mission-critical’ and should continue to be processed to the greatest extent possible,” Boehm said.

According to Boehm, although the interview waiver is temporary due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the measures will end no later than Dec. 31, 2020, and should alleviate some of the growing labor shortage concerns for Michigan specialty crop farmers for the 2020 growing and harvest season.

According to Department of Labor data, Mexico issued 88.2% of all H-2A visas and 74.1% of all H-2B visas in fiscal year 2019.

Additional interview waiver details:

  • Employers seeking workers should anticipate that applicants with visa ineligibilities will not be issued even if they were previously issued after an in-person interview or granted a waiver.
  • Petitioners and employers are encouraged to closely vet workers to ensure they are likely to be issued without a need for an interview.
  • In some instances, U.S. employers may substitute a worker with an individual who may ultimately qualify for an H-2 visa.
  • To substitute a worker who has not been admitted into the United States, the petitioning employer must provide written notification to the consular section.
  • This notification must name both the worker who was originally issued the visa (or named on the petition) and the worker who will be replacing him or her.

Consulates in Mexico that regularly process H-2 visas will notify its petitioners and agents of the new procedures to implement these changes.

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