How Can I Bring in a Foreign Dairy Employee to the USA?

August 11, 2020

What Are the Options?  And What Works?

Many dairy farmers have turned to foreign help for their dairies—and been pleased.

But right now, in this pandemic-specific world, is it still possible?  With all the restrictions on travel, borders shut down, US embassies closed or on limited work status, specific categories of visas paused… what options are still out there?

Happily, I have some good news—and a few reality checks.  I’m going to go through each visa category that seems applicable for dairy workers, one by one.  The visa types I’ll look at are listed here–click on any one to skip directly to that type:

Each section includes comments about how COVID-19 has changed the visa as well.  There are significant delays and travel bans which impact everything at this time.

Also, I’m passing along information and recommendations from an immigration attorney with whom Global Cow works–and including some thoughts of my own, based on Global Cow’s experience.

As always, feel free to reach out to Global Cow with your specific questions. We’ll see what we can do to help!

trainee and calf

TN VISAS

Requirements

  • Mexico and Canada, ONLY.
  • Professional level job.
  • Candidate must have at least a baccalaureate degree or appropriate credentials.
  • Milkers do not generally fit into this category, although milking could be a part of the job.
  • Good position matches include:
    • herd health
    • nutrition
    • reproduction
    • herd management
    • feed harvesting and management
    • designing and implementing agricultural machinery systems

Employee Time Frames

  • Can start at any date, once authorization is approved with either USCIS or the TN visa is granted
  • Can stay up to three years (and visa can also be renewed)

Visas

  • Visa paperwork preparation can be done relatively quickly
  • Visa processing itself can be several months with standard processing
  • For those TN visa holders currently in the USA, who are extending, 15 days premium processing can be requested and paid for
  • Visas can be processed
    • In home country at the US embassy/consulate if applicant is in Mexico or Canada
    • At the border for Canadians
    • If in the USA already, and asking for an extension, it would be done in the USA
  • Family members can come in as well

Costs

  • $160 (within Mexico), or $460 (if in the USA) for visa filing fees
  • Possible $1440 premium processing in government filing fees (only applicable to those who are already in the USA)
  • $1500 lawyer fees
  • Recruitment costs (varies; see Global Cow’s)
  • Generally, salaries need to run about $30,000 (or more) annually, and need to be at a professional level

COVID-19 Related Problems

  • Mexican/US border currently closed (agricultural workers are essential workers)
  • Closure now extended through August 21st
  • US embassies and consulates have been closed, or working with limited staff
  • Some embassies starting to open now

 Our Take

The TN visas continue to be a very positive option for hiring employees from Mexico.  If the TN applicant is in Mexico, you can start the paperwork processing now—and be ready for when the US Embassy can process the visa request, and the borders re-open. (If the TN applicant is already in the USA, it is a matter of processing paperwork–border closures would not have an impact.)

J-1 VISA

Requirements

  • Open to all countries
  • Usually participants are 20-30 years of age, very often college students
  • Must work with a sponsoring organization who is approved by the US State Department
  • Participants are not “employees”; they are here to “learn by doing”. Because of this, hosts and trainees/interns must comply with a training plan, and complete reports.

Intern/Trainee Time Frames

  • Can start at any date
  • Must leave at the end of one year at most (for dairies; related ag businesses might be able to have a total of 18 months)
  • Often J-1 holder is subject to a two-year homestay requirement upon completion

 Visas

  • Usually takes about three to five months to process everything
  • Visas are processed in home country

Costs

  • Program fees: varies ( see Global Cow’s)
  • Minimum wage, health insurance, usually housing and some transportation
  • Transportation: varies

COVID-19 Related Problems

  • As of June 22, 2020, President Trump has banned new J-1 visas in the trainee/intern category until December 31, 2020. Ban could be extended.
  • There are rumors of a potential legal challenge to this ban. (A similar ban was put on F-1 student visas, and was rescinded when challenged by a large cohort of educational institutions.)
  • US embassies and consulates have been closed, or working with very limited staff. Processing of these visas is slowed. However, some embassies starting to open now.
  • Some countries are not allowed to enter into the USA due to travel bans related to the pandemic.

Our Take

Although the visa is “on hold” until (currently) January 1st, there is processing time.  You can work on paperwork now, with the hope of arrival shortly after January 1, 2021. 

The J-1 visa has several positives:

  • It’s a great way to start working with foreign nationals.
  • It’s only for a year, and sometimes knowing a specific end date makes a lot of sense.
  • Health insurance is handled by the program.
  • The overall costs for this program are fairly low.

 I expect this visa to return—although honestly, I think it will perhaps not start up again right on January 1st.  Timing (in my opinion) will depend largely on how our virus numbers run, both in our own country and in the country where the intern/trainee is coming in from.  Global Cow already has several candidates ready to go forward already listed on our website.  We can start with the processing—and be ready as soon as travel is again allowed.    

H-2A

Requirements

  • Open to all countries
  • SEASONAL agricultural workers, to fill TEMPORARY jobs when :
    • There are insufficient available, qualified and willing US workers to fill the position being offered at the prevailing wage.
    • Hiring the foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed US workers.
  • Candidate must have appropriate credentials for the job

 Employee Time Frames

  • Can start at any date
  • Total time in-country of one year for temporary, seasonal work

 Visas

  • Usually takes about 75 days
  • Visas are processed in home country

 Costs

  • Various government fees: $760
  • Attorney/agent fees, recruitment costs, application fees: varies

(none of these allowed to be reimbursed from worker’s wages)

  • Transportation: usually 50% of arrival; 100% during contract, between housing and work; full return travel costs
  • Worker’s Compensation insurance or insurance coverage equivalent to Worker’s Compensation
  • Salary same as US workers; at least minimum wage levels of state/federal minimum wage
  • Must guarantee at least 75% of full contract period wage
  • Free livable housing; housing inspection: varies (estimated at $9,000 to $13,000/worker by USDA)

 COVID-19 Related Problems

  • US embassies and consulates have been closed, or working with very limited staff
  • Some embassies starting to open now

IMPORTANT:  H-2B (seasonal, non-agricultural) visas were banned on June 22nd, by presidential proclamation. H-2A was not.

Our Take

Because Global Cow normally works primarily with dairy farmers—who are not typically seasonal–we don’t usually work with this visa. However, if your farm has truly seasonal workers, the first steps in this process—advertising the position, going through the labor certification—are NOT impacted by COVID-19. Again, with visa processing time (and if your dairy is truly seasonal), you could utilize this time to start on the paperwork.  Many of the candidates Global Cow has available would be excited about H2-A work as well, if you have a position that is truly temporary. 

H-1B

Requirements

  • Open to all countries
  • Allows “temporary employment of foreign workers in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent.”
  • Candidate must have at least a bachelor’s degree; masters’ and PhD’s are preferred.

Employee Time Frames

  • All applications must be done by April 1st
  • Decisions are made by August or September. If you pay premium processing, usually you will hear back in May
  • Work starts no earlier than October 1st

Visas

  • There is a visa cap of 65,000 annually; masters’ degree or higher has an exemption for another 20,000.
  • Most take 6-10 months from start to approval
    • Labor certification process (if no audit is required): 4 months
    • Visa processing: 3-4 months (faster with premium processing)
  • April 1st filing; earliest start date is October 1st
  • Visas are processed in home country

Costs

  • Labor certification advertising: varies
  • $700 for visa filing fees
  • $1440 premium processing in government filing fees (strongly recommended)
  • $7500 lawyer fees
  • Other assistance and recruitment costs (varies)
  • Generally, salaries need to run at least $40,000 annually, and need to be at a professional level

*It is possible for the employer to pass some, or all, of these fees back to the foreign national, either during the process or as a payback agreement if the foreign national leaves the employer in a specific time frame.

COVID-19 Related Problems

  • US embassies and consulates have been closed, or working with very limited staff
  • Some embassies starting to open now

Our Take

Even though we have had a few people apply for this visa successfully, it is very difficult to utilize for dairy farm employees.  Here’s why:

  • The visa category is set up for those with advanced degrees. The US government requires dairy farmers to prove that advanced degrees are common and normal for the position.
  • There is such high demand for this visa that applicants typically go through a lottery system—just to hear if their specific visa request will be reviewed. We’ve had several cases where an employer and applicant will complete all documentation (including paying all preparation fees)—and then not be chosen for visa processing.
  • Under COVID-19, this visa category did have processing delays in 2020.
  • Finally, there are many who believe that the US Customs and Immigrations Service (USCIS) may make further changes and restrictions to this visa.

 A possible good candidate for this position may be a highly skilled manager, or someone in allied dairy industry (not necessarily directly employed on the dairy farm).  If you have a potential employee with at least a bachelors (preferably a masters or PhD), who would be working in a position that requires this level of knowledge, now is a great time to start pulling together all the documentation needed.

EB-3

(Third Preference) ”Green Card”

Requirements

  • Open to all countries.
  • Three different category types:
    • “Skilled workers” are persons whose jobs require a minimum of two years training or experience, not of a temporary or seasonal nature. The skilled worker must meet the educational, training or experience requirements of the job opportunity.  Relevant post-secondary education may be considered as training.
    • “Professionals” are persons whose job requires at least a US baccalaureate or foreign equivalent degree and are a member of their professions.
    • The “other workers” subcategory is for persons performing unskilled labor requiring less than two years training, education or experience, not of a temporary or seasonal nature.
  • Employee must perform work for which qualified workers are not available in the US, and meet any other requirements specified on the labor certification.
  • A labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer are required.

Employee Time Frames

  • Can start at any date
  • This is permanent residency in the USA.

 Processing Time

  • Department of Labor prevailing wage determination: 1-3 months
  • Advertising/preparation for labor certification request: 2-4 months
  • Labor certification from the Department of Labor: 4-6 months
  • Petition Form I-140 to USCIS: 3-8 months (however, sometimes this process takes years). After approval of I-140 petition from USCIS, depends on “priority dates” for each category.
  • After your specific priority date has become current, it will depend on where the potential employee is:
    • If overseas, it goes through consular processing. This requires form completion.  In a few weeks, the applicant is called for a visa interview at the local US consulate.
    • If in USA, it is filing for an adjustment of status. The applicant submits the application, and several months later, the applicant goes to a green card interview.

The entire process will likely take two years for someone filing for an adjustment of status, and longer still for those starting from their home country.

 Costs

  • Labor certification advertising costs varies based on newspaper
  • $700 for I-140 filing fee
  • $1440 premium processing fee (strongly recommended)
  • $7500 lawyer fees
  • Other assistance and recruitment costs (varie)
  • Generally, salaries need to run at least $40,000 annually, and need to be at a professional level

*It is possible for the employer to pass some, or all, of these fees back to the foreign national, either during the process or as a payback agreement if the foreign national leaves the employer in a specific time frame.

 COVID-19 Related Problems

  • On March 20, 2020, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing service for all For I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice.
  • Travel bans for specific countries.
  • US consulates worldwide have been closed for green card processing have been closed since March. There are longer backups now for interviews.
  • President Trump has basically stopped all or most EB-3 cases at the consulates, through the end of 2020. However, if a person is already in the US legally, and needs to file an adjustment of status with USCIS, those cases CAN PROCEED.

 Our Take

This could work very, very well… if you can be (very) patient.  The first steps can be accomplished during shutdowns around the globe.

From any current visa, to become a legal employee

EMPLOYMENT-BASED PERMANENT RESIDENCE THROUGH LABOR CERTIFICATION

 Requirements

  • Open to all countries; some countries take much longer than others (examples are India and China)
  • Employers sponsor specific immigrant for specific position after obtaining a labor certification from the DOL following a local labor market test to show that the employer been unable to find minimally qualified U.S. worker who is interested and available
  • Employee must perform work for which qualified workers are not available in the US, and meet any other requirements specified on the labor certification.
  • A labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer are required.

 Employee Time Frames

  • Can start at any date.
  • This is permanent residency in the USA.

 Processing times

  • Department of Labor prevailing wage determination:  1-3 months
  • Advertising/preparation for labor certification request:  2-4 months
  • Labor certification from the Department of Labor:  4-6 months
  • Petition Form I-140 to USCIS:  3-8 months (however, sometimes this process takes years). After approval of I-140 petition from USCIS, depends on “priority dates” for each category.
  • After your specific priority date has become current, it will depend on where the applicant is:
    • If overseas, it is done through consular processing in home country. Applicant completes forms, and then is called for a visa interview at the local US consulate. 
    • If applicant is already in the USA, it is filing for an adjustment of status.  After submitting the application, the government will arrange the green card interview.

The entire process will likely take two years for someone filing for an adjustment of status, and longer still for those starting from their home country.

Costs

  • Labor certification advertising costs varies based on newspaper
  • $700 for I-140 filing fee
  • $1440 premium processing fee (strongly recommended)
  • $7500 lawyer fees
  • Other assistance and recruitment costs (varies; see Global Cow’s)
  • Generally, salaries need to run at least $40,000 annually, and need to be at a professional level

*It is possible for the employer to pass some of these fees back to the foreign national, either during the process or as a payback agreement if the foreign national leaves the employer in a specific time frame.  The employer must pay—at a minimum—the labor certification and advertising costs by himself.

 COVID-19 Related Problems

  • US embassies and consulates have been closed, or working with limited staff
  • Some embassies starting to open now

 Our Take

This visa would be a great match for a potential employee already known to your dairy.  The first steps in this process—advertising the position, going through the labor certification—are NOT impacted by COVID-19.  If you are in this situation, I would recommend moving forward now.

Things continue to change in our global pandemic world–regularly!  I’ll try to update this with any significant changes as they are announced!  

And please do reach out with any questions or thoughts.  As my father always used to say, “The cows still have to be milked!”   

Dairy Dreaming… 

brings news from the dairy world, specifically on Global Cow offerings and things that relate to training and courses, immigration and international dairying.  (And we do try to make it fun, too!)

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