Mar 18, 2020Ag Workforce Coalition calls for action to keep H-2A, other visas in process
The steering committee of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) on March 18 called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to recognize all H-2A as well as any other non-immigrant visa petition involving an agricultural worker visa consular processing functions as essential and direct U.S. Consulates to treat all agricultural worker appointments as emergency visa services.
The move came after Monday’s announcement by the Department of State’s decision to suspend regular visa processing at the embassy in Mexico City and all consulates in Mexico in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While USDA did clarify the State Department will be prioritizing workers eligible for the in-person interview waiver, the agency’s own data show that this process will only cover a portion of the workers needed to help produce this country’s food.
“We agree that governments and the private sector must take all necessary precautions to reduce further transmission of the virus in our communities, however those steps must be proportional and reasonable,” the groups write. “The Food and Agriculture Sector remains critical at this trying time and must be able to continue to provide sustenance.”
Action is especially critical at this time, as planting for many crops begins in a month. Many producers have applications pending or will soon file them and the next few months are typically the busiest time of year for visa interviews at embassies and consulates.
“The American people need a stable food supply to maintain healthy diets and strong immune systems, especially now during this national health crisis,” the letter concludes. “The failure to take necessary action to protect our food supply will result in bare shelves in grocery store produce aisles, not from panic buying, but as the result of the federal government directly causing a shortage of critical labor. We urge you and the President to not let that happen.”
A copy of the full letter can be found at http://www.agworkforcecoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/d4_LettertoSecretaryPompeoH2AVisaProcessing.pdf.
The Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) brings together organizations representing the diverse needs of agricultural employers across the country. AWC serves as the unified voice of agriculture in the effort to ensure that America’s farmers, ranchers and growers have access to a stable and secure workforce. For more information, please visit www.agworkforcecoalition.org.
USApple calls for state department to expedite ag worker visas
The U.S. Apple Association on March 18 joined other national agriculture organizations calling on the State Department to expedite all H-2A and other non-immigrant agricultural worker visas. In a letter to Secretary Mike Pompeo, the Ag Workforce Coalition, of which USApple is a founding member, called for the State Department to treat all agricultural workers under emergency visa services. The urgency comes after the State Department announced on Monday it would suspend regular visa processing at the embassy in Mexico City and all consulates in Mexico in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Growers across the country have workers who have just arrived or will be arriving in the next few weeks to do the critical tasks of planting, pruning and general readying of the orchards, which is critical for a healthy abundant crop,” said USApple President and CEO Jim Bair. “Without these workers, those critical tasks cannot be completed, and the quality and size of the apple crop will be greatly impacted.”
The H-2A program has more than doubled in the past few years, with much of the growth attributable to apples. While most H-2A workers come to harvest apples, a critical early crew arrives typically between mid-March to mid-April to ready apple trees for the season. These jobs, too, are now increasingly being done by H-2A guest workers.
“The American people need a stable food supply to maintain healthy diets and strong immune systems, especially now during this national health crisis,” states the Ag Workforce Coalition letter. “The failure to take necessary action to protect our food supply will result in bare shelves in grocery store produce aisles, not from panic buying, but as the result of the federal government directly causing a shortage of critical labor. We urge you and the President to not let that happen.”