What is the H-2A Visa Program?

The H-2A agricultural guest worker visa program allows workers from other countries entry into the United States through U.S. immigration. Congress revised this program in 1986 as domestic farm workers dwindled. The goal was to allow farmers to bring in immigrants legally to help with harvests.

What is the H-2A Visa Program

Initially, the H-2A program got little use. Farmers still brought in illegal workers instead of going through the steps to get them visas. More recent reforms have made this program more flexible. In 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued 250,000 H-2A visas. That is up from 60,000 just one decade earlier. In 2022, that number rose to 370,000 visas.

To use this program to hire agricultural workers, you must understand how it works clearly. This article will cover some of the basics.

What is the H-2A Visa Program?

Through the H-2A Visa Program, agricultural businesses and farmers can get temporary, seasonal help from foreign workers. It differs from the labor certification employers get to allow a foreign worker into the country permanently. The H-2A program is only available to any employer or agricultural producer that believes they need to bring temporary help.

There are established guidelines for what businesses qualify, including:

  • The company must be located in the U.S. An agricultural business that works out of another country will not qualify even if they are U.S. based.
  • The business must have a valid Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).
  • The work must be agricultural labor or support services.
  • The visa is seasonal or temporary, lasting ten months or less. It must also be tied to a set time of the year, such as harvest.

Agricultural labor and support services can include:

  • Farm, crop, nursery, or greenhouse workers.
  • Agricultural equipment operators.
  • Farm, ranch, or aquaculture animal workers.

Eighty-six percent of workers fall into the first category.

Benefits of H-2A Visas for Agricultural Employers

There are significant tax benefits for agricultural employers that hire H-2A workers. H-2A workers do not pay Social Security or Medicare taxes. Employers do not pay them for these employees, either. That cuts back on both the tax and administrative burden.

Employers may withhold federal income tax in agreement with the employee. It is not a requirement, though. If they decide to make these deductions, the worker must fill out an IRS form W-4 and an Employee's Withholding Certificate.

Some states also allow employers to deduct workers' compensation from the employee's pay. It varies by state, however.

Working with H-2A employees reduces some of the risks of hiring immigrants. Substant penalties and jail time could be involved if a farmer uses illegal immigrants. The maximum penalty is a $3,000 fine for each worker and six months in jail.

Responsibility and Compliance Rules for Employers

Along with benefits, employers face regulations for using H-2A workers. For instance, they must pay an application fee to process sole employees and a filing fee. They must reimburse employees for fees they have to pay to get their visas, such as a consulate fee.

Employers foot the transportation bill for workers, as well as housing and living expenses. That is on top of the pay they earn.

Sometimes, the employer may collect some of these expenses from the employee's pay. If employees can't make their meals, employers can charge them for the three meals they must provide daily.

Pay Guarantees

As part of the program, employers must guarantee the worker's hours equal up to 75% of the contract period. If the contract is for ten weeks, working six days at eight hours daily. The employer must guarantee they will pay for at least 360 work hours.

There are laws employers must abide by, as well. For example, they cannot confiscate these temporary agricultural workers' passports or documents. They also can't discriminate against them if they file a complaint or consult a lawyer.


Employers may use the E-Verify system to confirm that the H-2A worker is eligible to work in the U.S. Using the system is voluntary unless the workers work for a federal contract containing an E-Verify clause, state legislation requires it, or a court orders it.

Agricultural employers in this country continue to anticipate a shortage of domestic farm workers. Hiring H-2A Visa workers may help these employers fill the gap. It comes with both benefits and costs, though. You must understand how to use the H-2A visa program, what to expect, and who qualifies.

If you want to hire foreign agricultural workers through the H-2A Visa Program and need help with compliance, contact an immigration professional if you have questions. Contact Workforce PayHub today for comprehensive workforce management solutions!

Eric Jones
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