H-2A and H-2B Visas Explained

Depiction of difference between H-2A and H-2B visa holders.

While many non-Americans who would someday like to work and live in the United States are familiar with the H-1B visa, perhaps fewer are familiar with two other types of nonimmigrant visas for foreign-born workers: H-2A and H-2B visas. While they are all temporary visas designed to help fill important gaps in the US workforce, there are differences between all three.

What is an H-2A Visa?

An H-2A visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows US employers and certain other US agencies to employ foreign nationals temporarily in agricultural positions that typically last less than a year. These positions usually consist of seasonal work centered around farming and ranching. The H-2A visa is necessary because there are often not enough able, willing, and qualified US workers to perform these jobs. Due to the short-term, seasonal nature of the positions, there is no annual numerical limit (cap) on the number of H-2A workers who can be in the United States.

What is an H-2B Visa?

Similar to an H-2A visa, the H-2B visa allows US employers and agencies to fill gaps in their workforces temporarily, once they have demonstrated that those positions cannot be filled by US workers. The primary difference is that H-2B visas are specifically for nonagricultural temporary positions. The scope of employment the H-2B visa can cover is vast, including everyone from sports instructors and camp counselors to business trainers and home care attendants. Currently, the US Congress has set a cap of 66,000 H-2B visas that can be issued in a fiscal year.

What is the Difference Between an H-1B and H-2B Visa?

H-1B visas are specifically for skilled employment, defined as positions that require a university degree, or training and experience that is equivalent to such a degree. H-1B visa-holders are commonly in positions within the STEM fields, such as computer science, software development, scientific research, and education. Due to the high degree of skill and experience required of H-1B workers, the H-1B visa is issued for a period of three years and can be extended to a total of six years. Many H-1B visa-holders become an asset to their organizations, and are thus sponsored by their employer for an employment-based Green Card (permanent US residence).

Conversely, H-2B visas are specifically for temporary or seasonal employment, often in positions that do not require a university degree or equivalent training and experience. H-2B visas are issued for the length of time required of the position, with a maximum total duration of two years. An H-2 visa cannot lead to employer-sponsored permanent residence or a permanent position in the US working for that employer.

How Do You Get an H-2A or H-2B Visa?

In order to hire an H-2A or H-2B worker, an employer must file a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker on the prospective worker’s behalf. Following approval, the prospective worker would then need to apply for the visa at the US embassy or consulate in their own country, and then seek admission to the US with Customs and Border Protection.

What Countries Can H-2A and H-2B Applicants be From?

The US Department of State and Department of Homeland Security determine which countries are eligible to provide workers for the H-2A and H-2B visa programs.

As of November, 2022, nationals of the following countries are eligible to apply for an H-2A or H-2B visa:

AndorraEswatiniMadagascarSaint Lucia
ArgentinaFijiMaltaSan Marino
Bosnia and Herzegovina      GrenadaMontenegroSolomon Islands
BrazilGuatemalaMozambiqueSouth Africa
BruneiHaitiNauruSouth Korea
BulgariaHondurasThe NetherlandsSpain
CanadaHungaryNew ZealandSt. Vincent and the Grenadines
ColombiaIrelandNorth MacedoniaSwitzerland
Costa RicaIsraelNorwayTaiwan
Republic of CyprusJamaicaPapua New GuineaTimor-Leste
Czech Republic JapanParaguay**Turkey
Dominican RepublicLatviaThe Philippines*Ukraine
EcuadorLiechtensteinPolandUnited Kingdom
El Salvador         LithuaniaPortugalUruguay

*Eligible for H-2B program only.

**Eligible for H-2A program only.

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