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ARA Successfully Lobbied for an Exception for Certain H-2 South African Workers

Jan 29 2021

ARA lobbied Congress and the Administration on a national interest exemption for certain H-2 travelers from South Africa along with other national and state agriculture groups. The issue was resolved in a matter of days thanks to the joint efforts.


This proclamation on a “Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Non-Immigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease” was issued by the Biden Administration on Jan. 25, 2021, and went into effect Jan. 26, 2021. While there was no explicit exemption listed for H-2A workers traveling from South Africa to the United States, the proclamation did allow for an exemption for any non-citizen whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security to be exempt from the travel restriction. The most recently available data indicated there were approximately 5,000 admissions of South African workers with H-2A visas.

ARA lobbied for H-2A visa travelers to be included under the National Interest category. On Thursday, January 28, 2021, the Department of State issued the following statement stating that H-2 workers would fall under the exemption.

National Interest Exception for Certain H-2 travelers from South Africa (Last Updated: January 28, 2021)

H-2A and certain H-2B travelers covered by the Presidential Proclamation of January 25, 2021, titled Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease, which relates to travelers who have been present in South Africa, may qualify for national interest exceptions. 

The H-2 program is essential to the economy and food security of the United States and is a national security priority. Therefore, we intend to continue processing H-2 applications for individuals who provide temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions.

H-2A and H-2B applicants covered by the January 25, 2021, Presidential Proclamation who are necessary to ensure food supply chains, such as seafood processors, fish cutters, salmon roe technicians, farm equipment mechanics, agriculture equipment operators etc., may be considered for a national interest exception to travel. Applicants who are applying for a visa will be considered for an exception at the time of interview. Travelers who already hold valid H-2A or food-supply-chain related H-2B visas and believe they meet the exception criteria should follow the procedures set forth on the Embassy/Consulate website where their visa was processed for consideration for an exception. This exception criteria only applies to those H-2 travelers and applicants who are subject to the January 25, 2021 Proclamation due to physical presence in South Africa.

Additional information on H-2 interview waiver provisions for returning and first-time applicants can be found at:

ARA sends a special thank you to the Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association and Wisconsin Agribusiness Association for their help on this effort. 



If you have questions about this exemption for certain H-2 workers from South Africa or anything else related to your ag retailer or supplier business, get answers from the ARA DC Help Desk.