Farmers.gov improvements focus on H-2A Checklist and USDA loan servicing | Michigan Farm News

Farmers.gov improvements focus on H-2A Checklist and USDA loan servicing

Category: Crops

by Farm News Media

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Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue first unveiled Farmers.gov at a breakfast hosted by the Michigan Farm Bureau in Grand Rapids last year. Recent improvements are intended to assist with the H-2A process and online loan services.

If you’re a farmer needing seasonal or temporary workers for planting, cultivating or harvesting the multitude of Michigan specialty crops, USDA has just unveiled a new interactive H-2A Visa Checklist Tool as the latest addition to their farmers.gov website.

In 2018, Secretary Perdue unveiled farmers.gov, a dynamic, mobile-friendly public website combined with an authenticated portal where customers will be able to apply for programs, process transactions and manage accounts.

Focused on education and smaller owner-operators, this farmers.gov H-2A Phase I release includes an H-2A Visa Program page and interactive checklist tool, with application requirements, fees, forms, and a timeline built around a farmer’s hiring needs. Interested producers can also view a video to learn more.

The H-2A Visa Program – also known as the temporary agricultural workers program – helps American farmers fill employment gaps by hiring workers from other countries. The U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of State, and state workforce agencies each manage parts of the H-2A Visa Program independently, with separate websites and complex business applications.

While interest in the H-2A Visa Program grows each year, farmers often find the application process challenging, with information and parts of the process spread across multiple state and federal agencies.

Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) National Legislative Counsel John Kran is encouraged to see the emphasis USDA is placing on H-2A and their efforts to make navigating the program a more workable option for farmers.

“Finding the right information and understanding the timeline are critical for anyone looking to use the H-2A guest worker visa program,” Kran said. “As available labor continues to dwindle, Michigan farmers continue to look toward H-2A as the only other option.

According to Kran, MFB policy continues to call for improvements to the current H-2A program while also providing assistance to farmers needing to navigate the current system.

“That is precisely why we created Great Lakes Ag Labor Services — to ensure farmers are in compliance with all applicable regulations if they choose to use the H-2A program to meet seasonal labor needs,” Kran said.

The new farmers.gov H-2A Visa Checklist brings program requirements, fees, forms, and important dates into one location. Answer just a few questions, select the start date for your workers, and get a “to-do checklist” built around your H-2A hiring needs. Then, print or download the checklist as a reference.

Over the next several months, USDA will collaborate further with the U.S. Department of Labor on farmers.gov H-2A Phase II — a streamlined H-2A Visa Program application form, regulations, and digital application process that moves producers seamlessly from farmers.gov website to farmers.gov portal to U.S. Department of Labor’s IT systems.

Producers can also download calendar reminders from the checklist to personal device – PC or mobile. If you’re just looking for some basic program information the website alsocovers only what beginners really need to know up front, in plain language, and will help you:

  • Learn the H-2A visa application basics.
  • Create your personalized H-2A visa application checklist built around your hiring needs.
  • Estimate the costs of hiring workers through the H-2A Visa Program.

Managing Farm Loans Online Improved

The self-service website farmers.gov will also allow producers to log in to view loan information, history and payments. Customers can access the “My Financial Information” feature by a desktop computer, tablet or phone.

They can now view:

  • Loan information;
  • Interest payments for the current calendar year (including year-to-date interest paid for the past five years);
  • Loan advance and payment history;
  • Paid-in-full and restructured loans; and
  • Account alerts giving borrowers important notifications regarding their loans.

To access their information, producers will need a USDA eAuth account to login into farmers.gov. After obtaining an eAuth account, producers should visit farmers.gov and sign into the site’s authenticated portal via the “Sign In / Sign Up” link at the top right of the website.

Currently, only producers doing business as individuals can view information. Entities, such as an LLC or Trust, or producers doing business on behalf of another customer cannot access the portal at this time, but access is being planned.

Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Edge are the recommended browsers to access the feature.