Biden Administration Lifts Travel Restrictions for Temporary Farm Workers Just in Time

Four white men wearing blue shirts standing in golden rice field
The Sullivan operation in Arkansas welcomes South African ag workers to their operation each spring
Jan 29, 2021
WASHINGTON, DC -- Yesterday, the U.S. Department of State granted a national interest exemption for H-2A and some H-2B workers from South Africa.  Earlier this week President Biden signed a proclamation that limits and prohibits travel to the U.S. from certain countries, including South Africa, due to the COVID pandemic.  The travel restrictions would have impacted a significant number of H-2A workers who normally travel to rice-producing states in the Mid-South.
The proclamation went into effect on January 26, 2021, and included no explicit exemption for agriculture visa workers traveling from South Africa to the United States, but did allow exceptions for noncitizens whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The most recently available data indicates there were approximately 5,000 admissions of South African workers with H-2A visas, or roughly one percent of all H-2A workers admitted into the U.S. annually.  Throughout the week, USA Rice worked with other agriculture organizations and key offices on Capitol Hill to resolve the issue.

“We greatly appreciate the swift and timely action of the Department of State to grant agriculture workers from South Africa an exemption to the travel restrictions,” said David Gairhan, an Arkansas rice farmer and chair of the Arkansas Rice Federation.  “These workers are critical for family farms that are preparing to plant a crop and essential to the economy and food security of the United States.”