If you are struggling to recruit seasonal agricultural workers for your business, the H-2A visa program may be a viable solution. This program allows farms, ranches, nurseries and other U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals from 80 countries aboard to fill seasonal or other temporary agricultural positions. However, be warned that employers have many obligations under the program – including providing workers with housing, free of charge. Below is a closer look at H-2A housing requirements.
The Housing Rule
H-2A employers must provide workers who are not reasonably able to return to their residence within the same day with housing, which must meet certain requirements. If you do not have your own housing facilities, you can secure rental housing publicly, such as at an apartment complex or motel, and pay all housing-related charges to the property’s management. Either way, the housing must meet certain standards, as detailed below.
Standards and Inspections
If you have your own worker housing, it must comply with either Employment Training Administration (ETA) or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. ETA standards apply to housing built prior to April 3, 1980; OSHA standards are used for housing built or substantially remodeled after that date. Before it is approved, your housing must be inspected by the State Workforce Agency (SWA); the inspection request must be made by you, early in the application process.
If you plan to house your workers in accommodations that are available to the general public, such as apartments or motel rooms, an SWA inspection is typically not required, but the property must comply with applicable local or state requirements (if there are none, OSHA standards would apply). For public housing, you are responsible for submitting documentation demonstrating that the facilities meet applicable standards.
There is an extensive list of requirements for H-2A housing, but generally speaking, the OSHA standard calls for at least 100 square feet for each occupant, of which at least 50 feet must be in the sleeping area. Workers must each have their own bed, which must be at least 12 inches off the floor, as well as an area for storing clothing and personal items.
The building must provide protection from the elements and have a ceiling that is at least seven feet high. Each sleeping room must have at least one openable window for both ventilation and an emergency exit, and windows and doors should equal at least 10 percent of the room’s square footage.
All heating, plumbing and electrical services must be installed in accordance with applicable codes, and showers and sinks must have an adequate supply of hot water for the anticipated number of occupants. There should be one toilet and one showerhead for every 10 occupants and one hand-washing sink per six occupants.
Safety requirements include that there must be at least one type A/B/C fire extinguisher and a physician-approved first aid kit for each building and that smoke detectors be installed in each sleeping room.
You must either provide convenient cooking and kitchen facilities, where H-2A workers can prepare their own meals, or give the workers with three meals a day. If you provide the meals, you may deduct the cost from workers’ pay up to an amount specified by the Department of Labor. To be acceptable under OSHA standards, kitchen facilities must include at least one working stove for 10 people and adequate counter and cabinet space for food preparation and storage, as well as one refrigerator for every six workers.
All workers that you house must be provided with free daily transportation between the living quarters and the work site. Naturally, this transportation must meet all applicable safety standards, including proper insurance and drivers’ licenses.
Before you go to the time and expense of recruiting foreign national workers and preparing and submitting an H-2A visa application, consider carefully whether it is a feasible program for your operations, given the housing costs involved. If you would like to speak to an agricultural visa lawyer about the H-2A agricultural visa program, contact Bolour/Carl Immigration Group at 323-857-0034 or [email protected].