H-2 Visas and the Race for Global Talent | Q & A With BAL Partner Ashley Foret Dees
BAL Partner Ashley Foret Dees is one of the nation’s preeminent experts on H-2 visas and the founder of the Louisiana State Bar Immigration Law Section. Since 2009, she has been a pivotal asset to corporate employers reliant upon temporary or seasonal workers to secure global talent and remain competitive. We recently sat down with Ashley, who manages the firm’s Lake Charles office, for a conversation about trends in H-2 visa practice and her experiences as a woman in the profession.
What are your areas of practice?
My specialty is representing employers interested in securing the critical skills of global temporary or seasonal workers through the H-2 visa process. There are two types of H-2 visas: H-2A and H-2B. Both visas permit an eligible U.S. employer or agent to hire a temporary or seasonal worker who is a foreign national. An H-2A visa is used solely for the hiring of agricultural workers, and an H-2B permits the hire of nonagricultural workers.
I also represent clients in family immigration, including defense of removal, asylum cases and DACA.
What’s the difference in processing time between H-2A and H-2B visas in FY2023?
H-2A agricultural visas are much easier — you can turn around the entire filing in 60-75 days. Those are very fast because there’s no cap for H-2As.
H-2 B visas are so different, especially this year. We remind employers that nowadays they have to back up their program timeline if they want to apply for an H-2B. Prevailing Wage Determinations are now taking an extra 45 days, which is long. That backs up the timeline to April 15. So, when people call in July and say, “I’d like to talk about October H-2B visas,” it’s like, “Well, we can talk about next year’s October visas.”
What other hurdles are employers interested in H-2 visas encountering?
The majority of employers who utilize the H-2A and H-2B visa programs are small businesses trying to leverage themselves into a really complicated federal visa program. Most small business owners don’t have a grasp on what opportunities are available for employers and find the process intimidating.
What questions are H-2B employers asking about this year’s lottery?
Everyone also wants to know about strategy right now. They’re interested in moving start dates, trying to get a supplemental visa number from one of the special reserved countries, and what to do if they’ve got such a bad position in the lottery their staff won’t be able to arrive this year. I help employers strategize, predict and find solutions within the H-2 program.
Can employers with preexisting immigration programs leverage H-2 visas as a mobility strategy?
There are some entities, like hotels, that should consider H-2s and other visa programs in combination with their existing programs. Hotels could mix having a J-1 trainee program with an H-2 visa program, and then move some of those workers into PERM status. I think there are a lot of industries out there that have a peak need to supplement their staff.
What interested you in immigration law as a field of practice?
The Catholic Charities (CC) in my area of Louisiana ran a very large refugee resettlement program that needed an attorney who spoke Spanish. My introduction to immigration law was doing asylum work with CC, which continued after graduation. Since there were no other practitioners in my area of the state practicing immigration law, I hung a shingle of counsel to a firm in 2009 — and opened my own practice in 2013.
What attracted you to becoming a partner with BAL and relocating your entire team to the firm?
I run a global practice, and my client employers are all over the country. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up — to leverage BAL’s advanced technologies and resources and continue to expand my H-2 practice much faster than I could on my own.
BAL is award-winning when it comes to advancing the status of women attorneys in the profession. How important was that to you when you were considering joining BAL?
So important. I think BAL having such diverse partners, attorneys, staff — and particularly women — is awesome.
Most of my clients are men. The interaction with women partners and attorneys is so crucial to my growth, learning and understanding of balance in my own life. And I think women immigration attorneys — and women attorneys in general — are such a powerhouse.
Ashley Foret Dees is a partner with BAL and manages the firm’s Lake Charles office. Ashley is a leading national expert and strategist in the areas of H-2A and H-2B employment visas. She has over a decade of experience representing clients in agricultural, seafood, hospitality and other industries. Ashley is a regular speaker on H-2 visa topics at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Annual Conference and AILA Mid-South Chapter, and previously served on the AILA National Pro Bono Committee. She is also a member and former H-2 Visa Chair of the AILA Department of Labor Liaison Committee. Ashley is fluent in Spanish and founded the Louisiana State Bar Immigration Law Section, which she chaired for several years.