The US has revised its blanket travel ban on South Africa to allow H-2A visa holders entry. This non-immigrant certification allows qualified South Africans to stay in the US for up to ten months. Furthermore, South African farm workers, particularly those skilled in operating equipment and machinery, are highly sought after in the US.
In 2019, prior to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, around 275,000 workers entered the US on H-2A visas. While more than 90% of these labourers arrive from Mexico, South Africans accounted for the second most in-demand workers. Just over 7,000 South Africans successfully obtained H-2A visas in 2019, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Of these, approximately, 5,000 temporary work visas were awarded to skilled machinery operators.
The travel ban on South Africans to the US, put in place by US president Biden last month, initially included H-2A visa holders, sending US growers into a panic. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) penned a letter to the DHS, requesting that South Africans with H-2A visas be excluded from the ban.
“Many of these South African H-2A workers have a unique skillset, and American farmers are counting on their timely arrival as they make plans for their upcoming growing seasons,” said Zippy Duvall, President of the AFBF, in his request to have these workers allowed into the country.
Biden reacted quickly, and last week, announced that South African H-2A visa holders would be permitted to enter as “a national interest exception to travel”.
According to businessinsider.co.za, seasonal agricultural workers employed full-time typically earn around $2,000 (R29,000) per month, depending on their skill levels and crop, with free boarding included.