May 10, 2016

Agencies Announce WG Backed Streamlining Measures to Improve H-2A Processing Issues

Yesterday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced the launch of two Western Growers’ promoted initiatives designed to streamline and bring bureaucratic efficiencies to the H-2A application process. The processing changes come after continued engagement by WG staff and less than a month after WG Chairman Larry Cox led a delegation of board members to Washington, D.C. to present officials from USCIS, DOS and the Department of Labor (DOL) with their concerns about the program and the specific fixes each agency could undertake to prevent a processing calamity ahead of the height of the harvest season later this year.    

Congress’ inability and unwillingness to move immigration reform have forced farmers to use the H-2A Program, a program that has historically seen little use, particularly in California. Although it is the only federal program that allows farmers to hire a legal workforce to harvest their crops, the program is well known to be slow, inefficient, bureaucratic and costly.  

While in Washington, D.C. for the Association’s Annual Board Fly-in, WG President and CEO Tom Nassif heralded the announcements as progress and good start to overhauling the program. “Yesterday’s announcements are welcome news for our members who are now being forced to rely on the H-2A Program. Coincidentally, the announcements come at a time while our members are in our nation’s capital to engage with members of Congress, their staffs and agency officials on issues of importance to them and their businesses. High on the list of those issues is simplifying the H-2A Program. Just last month, our Chairman and members of our board met with officials from each of the processing agencies to hear our concerns and solutions. We greatly appreciated their willingness to do so and are very pleased that they heard us. Western Growers looks forward to continued engagement with USCIS, DOS and the U.S. Department of Labor as we continue to press them on implementing our other recommended streamlining measures so that our farmers can continue to provide citizens of the U.S. and the world with the freshest and best produce on the planet.”   

The first announcement involves the launch of the USCIS/DOS e-Approval for Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) for the H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) classification. The new electronic process will allow USCIS to send approval information for H-2A petitions to DOS by the end of the next business day. DOS will accept this electronic information in place of a Form I-797 approval notice allowing consular posts to proceed with interviews and processing H-2A applications. The new process will begin on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. View the full announcement HERE.

Coinciding with the launch of USCIS/DOS e-Approval, USCIS will begin using pre-paid mailers provided by petitioners to send out receipt notices for H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) petitions starting on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. The agencies revised how they process pre-paid mailers for H-2A petitions and communicate approvals with one another in recognition of stakeholder interest in expediting the delivery of receipt notices and processing of petitions for the very time-sensitive H-2A classification. This is a change from standard processing at USCIS service centers, which normally use pre-paid mailers only for final decision notices. View the full announcement and the details of the action HERE.

For more information, contact Jason Resnick at (949) 885-2253.