H-2A vs. H-2B Visas: Which One Is Right for Your Agricultural Operation?

April 1, 2024

Agriculture is one of the strongest pillars of the United States economy. Yet, operating an agricultural business comes with bureaucratic headaches. Despite 2.9 million people being employed in the agricultural sector, a significant portion are overseas workers on temporary visas.

Most farm employers know how challenging sourcing adequate labor can be and are familiar with the H-2A visa program, coined the “Green Card for Harvest.” Did you know there’s another program, though, coined the H-2B visa program? This program is more suitable for certain types of businesses, such as fruit packing.

In this guide, we’ll break down both visa programs so you can determine which you might need and what it will entail.

What Is the H-2A Visa Program?

The H-2A visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows agricultural businesses to hire foreign workers to fulfill their seasonal labor needs. Whether you’re struggling to source labor as a small family farm or a large agricultural empire, this program likely applies to you.

Any U.S. agricultural business can use the H-2A visa program to fill temporary/seasonal positions wherever there’s a shortage of American workers. This situation is more common than people think, with approximately 10% of U.S. agricultural workers holding an H-2A visa. 

Do I Qualify for the H-2A Visa Program?

Several requirements exist for using the H-2A visa program. First, you must be a U.S.-based agricultural business with a current Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). Additionally, you must be able to hire, supervise, and pay employees.

Above all, the labor required must be related to agriculture, such as crop production, harvesting, and cultivation. Note that this also applies to positions like sheep shearing; however, other compliance requirements come into play if someone is hired to handle livestock.

Finally, the position must be seasonal or temporary, require a minimum of 35 hours per week, and be tied to a season, crop growing cycle, or event. Each H-2A visa holder can only work in the same position for ten months or fewer unless their visa is extended. 

Can Any Agricultural Business Use the H-2A Visa?

 The answer is typically yes, but the unfilled position must qualify as a full-time seasonal/temporary position. Moreover, applicants must advertise the position to U.S. workers first to prove there is no available domestic worker to fill that position.


How Long Is an H-2A Visa Valid?

 H-2A visas are nonimmigrant temporary visas. Most applicants can only remain within the country for one year, but the visa can sometimes be extended twice for up to three years.


What Is the H-2B Visa Program?

The H-2B visa program is designed for businesses seeking labor for non-agricultural work positions. How is this relevant to agricultural businesses?

Well, under the terms of this program, businesses are allowed to fill positions in areas such as seasonal construction and fruit/vegetable packing. These are two examples of positions that take place within agricultural businesses but wouldn’t qualify for the H-2A visa program.

Unlike the H-2A visa, Congress limits the H-2B program. Currently, just 66,000 H-2B visas are available, split in half over the fiscal year. While taking advantage of this program is an excellent way to source a foreign workforce, doing so is far more time-consuming and has a much higher rejection rate.

Most agricultural entrepreneurs apply months in advance to give them the biggest possible edge.


Do I Qualify for the H-2B Visa Program?

Employers must demonstrate that they have a temporary non-agricultural position that a domestic worker cannot fill. Positions that would count as non-agricultural but are relevant to the agricultural industry include: 

Employers must prove they cannot find qualified domestic workers, that the position is temporary, and that hiring the employee won’t impact regional wages or working conditions. In other words, pay and conditions must be comparable for your location.

Note that foreign nationals cannot apply for this visa. Only prospective employers can do so before the worker enters the country.


Can Any Agricultural Business Use the H-2B Visa?

Generally, yes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a small family farm or a nationwide agricultural business. However, the worker cannot hold a second job and must be in a qualifying non-agricultural position.


How Long Is an H-2B Visa Valid?

H-2B visa lengths depend on the position. Some visa holders may only stay for a few weeks, whereas others may stay for a maximum of three years. It depends on the position you’re trying to fill.

H-2A Visa Program vs. H-2B Visa Program: Which Is Right for My Business?


H-2A and H-2B visas have some key differences but also several similarities. Here are the key aspects of each visa program summed up:

Overall, H-2A and H-2B visas have more similarities than differences. Employers should note neither of these programs was designed to reduce labor costs compared to hiring domestic workers. They’re designed to fill positions that U.S. workers cannot fill.

Welcome Your Workforce with Help from Harvust!

We understand how difficult it can be to navigate the H-2A visa program and manage your foreign workers when they arrive. Our best-in-show labor compliance management software, in partnership with wafla, makes it easy.

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James Christopher Hall

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