CDC created this toolkit to provide COVID-19 information to employers, agencies, and organizations who work with H-2A workers. These messages, resources, and tools are designed to help people traveling to the United States on an H-2A temporary agricultural work visa, as well as those who employ, recruit, work with, or supervise them, to make decisions, protect their health, and communicate with their communities.
H-2A workers are at increased risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 during travel to and from the U.S., at work sites, in shared housing, and during shared transportation.
Many factors may put this population at increased risk of getting or spreading COVID-19:
- Being an essential worker: The risk of infection may be greater for essential workers. These workers are often required to be at the job site. Workers who appear to have symptoms of COVID-19 upon arrival at work, or who develop these symptoms during the day, should immediately be separated from others at the workplace, and sent to their permanent or temporary housing arrangements for isolation.
- Distance between workers: Agricultural workers often have close contact with one another both in the fields and indoors (e.g., greenhouses, dairy farms). Workers may also be near one another at other times, such as when clocking in or out, during breaks, when sharing transportation, or in shared housing.
- Transportation: Agricultural workers are frequently transported in buses, placing them in close contact with other workers in an enclosed space. CDC recommends that employers limit the number of workers in the same vehicle to improve social distancing and open windows or use vehicle ventilation to provide fresh air. Employers should consider transporting workers as groups (cohorts) of those in the same crews and/or who share living quarters. Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Travelers are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas of a conveyance (like on open deck areas of a ferry or the uncovered top deck of a bus).
- Housing: Workers on an H-2A visa live in employer-provided shared housing, which is often crowded, making prevention strategies such as social distancing, quarantining, and isolating more difficult to follow. CDC recommends that employers limit the number of workers sharing the same housing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. CDC also recommends that employers provide separate temporary housing for workers with COVID-19 to minimize the spread.
- Sick leave: Workers without paid sick leave or who do not know how or when they can use paid sick leave may be more likely to keep working when they are sick or when they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19—which means they can spread COVID-19 to other workers, including others working in the same facilities. CDC recommends that sick leave policies are flexible, non-punitive, and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of and understand these policies.
- Employees who are sick can visit a community health center that has low-cost, confidential health services and information available in languages other than English, including agricultural workers. Use this online tool to find the nearest community health center, https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/, or call 911 if it’s an emergency. You may also contact your consulate (if you are from Mexico, contact Consulados de México, Teléfonos de emergencia de la Red Consular de México) for guidance.
- Healthcare access and utilization: Employers are not required to provide health insurance to H-2A workers. Newly arrived H-2A workers are likely to be unfamiliar with how to access healthcare and health insurance in the United States. Healthcare access can also be limited for these workers by many other factors, such as cost, lack of health insurance, transportation, inability to take time off work, communication and language barriers, cultural differences between patients and providers, and historical and current discrimination in healthcare systems.
- Language and literacy barriers: H-2A workers are likely to have limited English proficiency and low literacy levels. CDC recommends that employers have access to educational material on COVID-19 prevention in the appropriate languages.
- Mobility of the workforce: H-2A workers may travel to and from communities in the United States or from abroad, and may work on more than one farm during their stay in the United States, which can potentially introduce exposure to and spread of the virus between communities and workers.