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I have recently started watching White Collar and think it's brilliant, but I noticed for the first half of season 2 that El doesn't seem to be there, all of her interaction with Peter is either in front of a green screen in which it seems that they aren't together and has been filmed seperately or it's a phone conversation as they put her in California and she is clearly green screened.

Can someone explain this? Was she working on another project or something?

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Seems it was because the actress had a baby. From an interview:

As Season 2 of the popular USA series “White Collar” gets under way, star Tiffani Thiessen is eager to get back to work after being ostensibly absent from the first few episodes of the new season. Thiessen recently had a baby with husband Brady Smith and was unable to make regular appearances in the first half of the season. “A lot of those [scenes] in the first six episodes I shot here in Los Angeles on a studio with a green screen behind me,” says the actress. “I haven’t seen the rest of the cast and I actually leave next week to go back to New York and finish off the season with them, so I’m excited.”

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