H2A Visa Guide

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • H2A visa is a temporary, non-immigrant program for seasonal U.S. agricultural workers.
  • Valid for up to 3 years with possible extensions.
  • Employers demonstrate a need for foreign workers; applicants must meet specific requirements.
  • Application process involves job offer, labor certification, forms, interviews, and fees, with a processing time of around 90 days.

Are you looking for an opportunity in the U.S., but don’t possess a unique skill or qualification to get you an H1B visa? Perhaps you are looking for a chance to earn in U.S. dollars and don’t mind working hard. Or maybe you need a change of scenery. Still, your options are limited in your home country because of your lack of qualifications. 

Have you heard about the H2A visa? The H2A visa could be your ticket in! Let’s take a look at what the H2A visa is and how you can apply. 

What is an H2A Visa?

The H2A visa is a non-immigrant visa program that allows low-skill, temporary, or seasonal workers to seek employment in the U.S. The H2A visa allows U.S. employers and U.S. agents that meet specific requirements to employ foreign nationals and bring them to the U.S. to take up temporary agricultural jobs.

Usually, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will allow you to stay in the U.S. for 10 months or less. Your H2A classification can be extended for increments of up to 1 year, though, but the maximum period an H2A beneficiary can stay in the U.S. is 3 years. Once you’ve stayed for the maximum period, you have to exit the U.S. and remain outside the U.S. for an uninterrupted period of 3 months. After the 3 months, you can seek to re-enter the U.S. on an H2A non-immigrant visa.

The H2A visa allows you to change employers while you are in the U.S. If you do this, the USCIS can also extend your visa term temporarily.

It is essential to keep in mind an H2A visa is not a visa that will put you on the path of permanent residency in the U.S. It also doesn’t lead to U.S. citizenship. The H2A visa is a non-immigrant visa, so it will only be granted for a temporary period.

The good news is, if you want to bring your family along, they can also apply for an H4 visa. Alternatively you can send money to your family back home.

Who Qualifies for an H2A Visa?

You don’t have to meet specific eligibility criteria to qualify for the H2A visa. Typically, H2A visa beneficiaries are 18 years or older, but the minimum age requirement will depend on the type of job you are applying for and any applicable restrictions under state or labor laws.

Most of the H2A visa requirements related to your U.S. employer (who will be your H2A visa petitioner) and the specific job they are offering.

Here are the requirements that apply:

  • The job being offered must be seasonal or temporary in nature.
  • The petitioner will have to demonstrate there aren’t enough U.S. workers able, willing, available, or qualified to do the temporary work.
  • The petitioner must also show the fact that they will employ you as an H2A worker will not adversely affect the working conditions or wages of similarly employed U.S. workers.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor will have to issue a single valid temporary labor certification, which will form part of the H2A petition.

H2A petitions will only be approved for nationals from countries that the secretary of Homeland Security has selected as eligible. This list of countries is published in the Federal Register notice every year. The designation as an eligible country is valid for one year from the notice being published. To see the latest list of designated countries, take a look here.

Required Documents for an H2A Visa

The U.S. employer or agent must file a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker on your behalf. You will also need to submit a DS-160 Online Non-Immigrant Visa Application (explained below).

Any supporting documents or evidence these two forms require will have to be included in your petition. Make sure you go through this list carefully, so you don’t miss anything and unnecessarily delay your application.

How to Apply for an H2A Visa

The application process for the H2A visa is pretty straightforward. We break it down in simple steps below.

Step 1: Find a job. Before you can apply for an H2A visa, you have to have a job offer from an employer in the U.S. Make sure you review your work contract carefully and check that the offer and the employer’s petition (see below) is valid.

Step 2: Labor certification. Your employer must submit a temporary labor certification application to the U.S. Department of Labor. They will then receive a temporary labor certification for H2A workers from the department of labor. After this, your employer can request H2A classification from the USCIS. To get more information on the temporary labor certification requirements and process, visit the department of labor’s website here.

Step 3: Form I-129. Your employer must submit the Form I-129 to the USCIS after receiving the temporary labor certification for H2A employment from the Department of Labor. The original temporary labor certification must be submitted with the Form I-129.

Step 4: Apply for the H2A visa. Once the USCIS has approved the Form I-129, you can apply for the H2A visa from within your home country. You must apply for the H2A visa with the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Complete the Form DS-160 and submit it online. Then schedule your H2A interview appointment at your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You can also do this with the help of the recruiter who connected you to the job offer in the first place.

Step 5: Attend your biometrics appointment. For some Application Service Centers, you will first have to submit your photographs and fingerprints separately at a separate appointment.

Step 6: Attend your H2A interview. At the H2A interview, you will need to show you are qualified to do the job, you have sufficient ties to your home country (so you can show your intention to return) and that you will not overstay your visa in the U.S. The consular officer conducting your interview can ask you questions about your family that remains in your home country, your employment history, any property or businesses that you own, and your financial resources. You will have to attend this interview alone. Your lawyer or recruiter can’t attend the interview with you.

For more details on the different phases of the H2A process, take a look here. For tips on how to tackle your part of the application process, visit this page here.

H2A Visa Cost?

The filing fee for the Form I-129 is $460. But, the filing fee and cost of the H2A visa application are generally born by your U.S. employer.

The DS-160 has a $190 application fee. You might have to pay this fee out of your own pocket, but your employer should reimburse you for this. Make sure of all of this beforehand, though. You don’t want to end up with a hefty bill of unexpected costs before you go.

H2A Visa Processing Time

The H2A visa processing time can depend on several factors, including the processing times of the various government agencies that form part of the process. Generally, however, the whole process takes about 90 days from start to finish to complete.

While you wait, you can check the status of your H2A visa application online here.

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The H2A visa might just be the opportunity you are looking for to travel, work in the U.S., and earn in U.S. dollars. What are you waiting for? Go apply for your H2A visa today! 

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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