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Updated on 15.05.2024

H-2B Visa for Non-Agricultural Workers

The H-2B visa allows foreign nationals to work temporarily in the United States in non-agricultural fields. However, the number of H-2B visas is limited each year.

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Bild von LKW fahrenden mit H-2B Visum

What is an H-2B visa?

H-2B visas are intended for temporary non-agricultural workers. That is, this visa category allows US employers to employ seasonal workers and individuals without academic degrees under certain conditions. The employment opportunities are diverse - from truck drivers to production workers, a wide variety of work activities are conceivable. Only agricultural jobs are excluded from the H-2B visa – as the official name "Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers" suggests.

Bild von einer Person mit einem H-2A Visum

Indeed, there is a special visa category for temporary work assignments in the agricultural sector: H-2A visas allow skilled or unskilled foreign workers to perform temporary agricultural work for a US employer in the USA.

What are the requirements for H-2B visas?

The H-2B visa, just like the H-1B visa, contains a classic work and residence permit for the USA. However, the H-2B visa allows only one very short-term, seasonal activity.

Labor Market Review

The entry requirements for the H-2B visa are very strict. The employer must, among other things, by Temporary Labor Certification prove that no other suitable worker can be found. In addition, as just mentioned, it must be proven that the work is of a short-term nature, e.g. due to a seasonal bottleneck, extraordinary event or major order.

H-2A and H-2B country list

Since January 2012, H-2B visas have been issued to nationals of certain countries. Currently, applicants from about 80 countries can apply for H-2B visas. Nationals from almost 85 countries can apply for H-2A visas. For example, the H-2B category has only been available to German applicants since 2016.

Currently, nationals of the following countries are eligible to apply for H-2A visa and / or H-2B visa (list in alphabetical order):

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, The Kingdom of Eswatini, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia (no H-2A eligibility), Montenegro, Mozambique, Nauru, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Paraguay (no H-2B eligibility), The Philippines (no H-2A eligibility), Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reserves the right to remove or add countries from the list at any time. The Federal Register lists the current H-2A and H-2B country list.

Attention: As a rule, USCIS only approves applications for nationals of those countries that are also on the list. In exceptional cases, however, USCIS may also approve applications from citizens of non-listed countries if it determines that this is of particular interest to the United States.

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Apply for an H-2B visa

The application process for H-2A and H-2B visas is similar to the very involved process for H-1B visa. The application is made in two steps:

  1. US employers must first obtain aPetition(I-129 form) with US immigration authorities and - at least for the H-2B - also file a temporaryLaboratory Certification at U.S. Department of Labor. The US employer must therefore prove that it was unable to find US nationals for the job offered.
  2. If the application is approved by US immigration authorities, foreign employees must apply for the H-2B visa as a final step in the consular process.
Bild von einer Person mit einem H-2 Visum

Since H-2B visas are limited in number per US fiscal year, H-2B applications may be filed beginning June 1 for the first six months (October 1 - March 31) and January 1 for the second six months (= April 1 - September 30).

Validity and extension of H-2B visas

H-2B visas are only issued for one year maximum as they only entitle the holder to work for a very short period of time on a seasonal basis. Although there is the possibility in one-year increments to extend the H-2B visa to for a maximum of three years, however, these extension requests are examined very closely and are also frequently rejected.

H-2B Cap

Similar to the H-1B visa, the H-2B visa is also subject to a annual numerical limit: the H-2B Cap.

The number of H-2B visas is split into two H-2B caps:

H-2B Cap | 1st half of the year | max. 33,000 | start of work 10/01 - 03/31

H-2B Cap | 2nd half of the year | max. 33,000 | start of work 04/01 - 09/30

This means that for each US fiscal year there are currently 66,000 H-2B visas available, divided into 33,000 visas for foreign employees starting work from October 1 (first half of the year) and 33,000 visas for foreign employees starting work from April 1 (second half of the year).

In principle, applications for the first half of the year are submitted from June 1 of a given year and for the second half from January 1 of the following year.

Note: While unused H-2B visas from the first half of the year are allocated to the second half of the same fiscal year, unused H-2B visas from the second half of the year are not allocated to next fiscal year.

H-2A visas are numerically not limited.

Annual Application Round - H-2B Cap Season

Each year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) first conducts the H-2B application round for the first six months of a US fiscal year. Once the USCIS receives sufficient petitions and the established cap on H-2B visas for the first half of a fiscal year is reached, any H-2B petitions received after that deadline that are subject to the cap and request a start date for employment prior to April 1 of a given year will be denied and returned to the respective petitioners.

Petitions for the second half of the fiscal year whose start date is on or after April 1 of a given year can only be submitted from January 1 of the following year.

H-2B applications excluded from the quota

Please note that there are H-2B applications that are exempt from the H-2B cap. For example, H-2B extension petitions will continue to be accepted by USCIS (even if the annual quota is exhausted).

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US visas for H-2B family members

Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 are eligible for derivative H-4 visas upon application for the same period as principal applicants.

Spouses and children can attend private and public educational institutions with the H-4 visa. However, spouses of H-2B visa holders cannot obtain their own Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with the H-4 visa. Therefore, employment is generally not permitted, not even for children.

More information on the H-2B program is available at www.uscis.gov/h-2b.

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Updated on 15.05.2024