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Fact Sheet: H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Program

Release Date: February 6, 2008

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact:  202-282-8010

Employers in the United States have often faced a shortage of available domestic workers who are able, willing and qualified to fill seasonal agricultural jobs.  The H-2A program was instituted to meet this need for seasonal and temporary labor, without adding permanent residents to the population.

The H-2A program is authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act, (INA) sec. 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a), which permits U.S. employers to bring temporary foreign workers into the United States to perform seasonal agricultural work. 

The H-2A program is managed by three federal agencies. The Department of Labor (DOL) issues the H-2 labor certifications and oversees compliance with labor laws; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates the H-2 petitions, and the Department of State (DOS) issues the visas to the workers at consulates overseas..

There are no annual limitations on the number of temporary foreign H-2A workers that may be admitted into the United States.  However, under the current DOL labor certificationprocess, employers must certify that U.S. workers are not available to perform this work before they may hire a nonimmigrant worker.  They must also certify that the wages and working conditions meet regional standards. 

Since this is a temporary worker program, H-2A nonimmigrant workers coming to the United States to perform seasonal jobs must leave following a maximum period of stay.  Some may apply to extend their stay or change/adjust status.


The Bracero program of 1942-1964 was United States’ first major temporary farm worker program.  It permitted Mexicans to take temporary work in the U.S. agriculture industry.  While the Bracero program succeeded in expanding the farm labor supply, it resulted in depressed wages in the Southwest and was eventually dissolved. It was replaced in 1964 by the H-2 program, which allowed employers to hire foreign workers for both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs in locations with a shortage of domestic workers. By 1986, this program was found to have similar problems as the Bracero program. 

When the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was enacted, it divided H-2 workers into temporary agricultural workers (H-2A), and temporary non-agricultural workers (H-2B). IRCA also allowed special agricultural workers to legalize their status by proving they worked 90 days in U.S. agriculture between May 1, 1985 and May 1, 1986. Additionally, IRCA allowed additional replenishment agricultural workers to enter the United States as temporary residents between 1990 and 1993 if there was a shortage of farm workers during that time.


Fiscal Year 2007

  • USCIS received 6,212 H-2A I-129 petitions and approved 6,134 petitions for 78,089 beneficiaries.
  • DOS issued 50,791 H-2A visas.

Fiscal Year 2006

  • USCIS received 5,667 H-2A I-129 petitions and approved 5,448 petitions for 56,183 beneficiaries.
  • DOS issued 37,149 H-2A visas.


This page was last reviewed/modified on February 6, 2008.