U.S. agriculture

Legal Insights: Understanding the H-2A Program through a Florida Farm's Rejection

The recent decision by a U.S. Department of Labor appeals board judge to reject a Florida employer's request for temporary workers under the H-2A program highlights critical aspects of immigration law and the challenges employers face in navigating it. This case, involving a Lake County, Florida-based employer, underscores the stringent requirements of the H-2A program and the importance of demonstrating a clear, temporary need for foreign agricultural workers.

Administrative Law Judge Steven D. Bell's ruling reaffirmed the initial rejection, based on the finding that the employer's need for workers was nearly year-round. This decision draws attention to the specific criteria under the Immigration and Nationality Act's temporary agricultural employment provisions, emphasizing the necessity for employers to differentiate between seasonal and year-round labor needs.

The employer, Maria I. Romero, had applied for authorization of six laborers under the H-2A program, which permits employers to hire foreign workers for agricultural work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. The application, covering a period from January to June 2024, was predicated on an alleged seasonal need. However, the certifying officer, citing multiple deficiencies, rejected the application, highlighting the employer’s history of similar labor needs in the same geographic area and questioning the temporary nature of the stated period of need.

This case illustrates the complexity of proving seasonal or temporary labor needs under the H-2A program. Despite the employer's efforts to distinguish the current application for tree farm labor from previous applications for labor in its citrus nursery, the certifying officer and Judge Bell found the evidence insufficient. The similarity in job duties across different applications, spanning approximately eleven months of the year, concluded that the employer's needs were not temporary or seasonal as defined by the program.

The decision brings to light the intricate considerations involved in H-2A applications. Employers must provide convincing evidence that distinguishes their current labor needs from past applications, especially when job duties and geographic locations overlap. The ruling emphasizes that mere assertions of seasonality are inadequate without substantial proof of a temporary labor need tied to specific events or patterns in the agricultural cycle.

This case serves as an educational example for immigration attorneys and employers seeking to navigate the H-2A program. It demonstrates the critical need for comprehensive and clear documentation that aligns with the program’s strict temporary and seasonal agricultural work criteria. For potential clients and employers in the agricultural sector, understanding these legal nuances is essential for the successful navigation of the H-2A visa process.

The case of Maria I. Romero, case number 2024-TLC-00012, in the U.S. Department of Labor's Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals, highlights the challenges and intricacies of complying with immigration law in the context of agricultural labor. It underscores the importance of meticulous preparation and a deep understanding of the legal requirements for securing temporary foreign labor under the H-2A program.

Credits to the original article by Dorothy Atkins, "Nearly Year-Round Labor Need Kills Fla. Farm's H-2A Bid", Law360, January 22, 2024.

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