Here’s what H-2A visas are and how they affect our agriculture industry

What to take away from discrimination against H-2A workers in Maitland earlier this year

Workers at an Apopka nursery (FILE)

MAITLAND, Fla. – At the end of January, reports of nearly 100 migrant workers dropped off by bus at a hotel in Maitland sparked public controversy.

Due to online claims that the workers were there illegally, protesters gathered outside of the Extended Stay waving “Impeach Biden” flags and “Let’s Go Brandon” signs. However, all of the workers were there legally and were employed by Dewar Nurseries as H-2A temporary agricultural workers.

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H-2A visas are designated for people to come to the United States to temporarily work in agriculture. These visas are granted for up to six months at a time.

This past financial year, there were 317,000 seasonal farm job openings for H-2A workers, pointed out by University of California researchers in May.

Orlando immigration lawyer Roberto Lopez provides guidance and advice to his clients on citizenship, visa applications, asylum and employment for non-citizens.

“Farms or corporations can petition people from outside the United States to come and work specifically for the farming industry for those six months,” Lopez said. “It expires immediately. It’s only a one-time use and then they would have to reapply.”


According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are currently 82 countries that are eligible to participate in the H-2A program. However, 93% of H-2A workers come from Mexico, according to the UC report.

Workers in the United States under an H-2A visa stay with one employer, or petitioner, for the six-month period. During this time, the employer handles all the workers’ transportation and lodging.

“Usually, transportation and a place to stay is included in the contract. That’s one of the things that petitioners must prove to USCIS before being granted H-2A workers,” Lopez said. “The problem is when it becomes abusive from the part of the petitioner.”

Field workers in the United States face situations such as not being paid a living wage or living in inhumane conditions, according to Lopez.

“Even though petitioners may go through all the motions to get a visa, sometimes they are bringing (people) here to work and they change the compensation or put them in places under armed security guards,” Lopez said.


The short answer is no.

H-2A workers often work alongside undocumented immigrants in the fields, and Lopez said it can be difficult to differentiate between someone who is here with a visa and someone who is undocumented.

“By a basic eye test, you could be unable to differentiate,” Lopez said. “At the same time, the government is not supposed to discriminate because of the color of the skin.”


The United States uses immigrants to make up for labor in places it lacks citizen applicants. The grueling physical labor associated with agriculture is an example of an industry that does not see many U.S. applicants.

“(H-2A visas) are specifically designed for the need of people working in the fields,” Lopez said. “It’s a way to help the farming industry in the United States.”

At the end of the day, seeing a large group of Spanish-speaking people should not be cause for alarm, Lopez explained.

“The Department of Homeland Security has a job to do, and we should allow them to do it,” Lopez said. “Immigrants are an integral part of our economy. As soon as more Americans can see that, the better for them.”

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About the Author:

Brianna Ellis joined News 6 in September.