Farm & Ranch - March 2020


MARCH 2020

Suspension of visa processing hits U.S. farms, fisheries

and guest workers are a big part of what drives that engine,” said Sarah Frey, founder and chief executive of Frey Farms, which operates in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia. “We have to figure out ways to keep going. Right now, feeding people is an es- sential service.” Frey said she was making calls to lawmak- ers until midnight all week, extolling the im- portant role migrant farmworkers play in the U.S. food supply. Of the 500 to 600 workers Frey employs during peak season, about 250 are on H-2A seasonal worker visas. Frey said she was ex- pecting her first crew of two dozen workers to come fromMexico in 10 days to help with the watermelon and toma- to harvest in LaBelle, Florida. She is expecting more migrant workers through the spring and summer, picking fruits and vegetables at her farms in Indiana and Missouri, and harvest- ing pumpkins come fall. The American Farm

Bureau Federation warned that the suspen- sion in visa processing in Mexico could have a major effect on agricul- tural production. “Under the new re- strictions, American farmers will not have ac- cess to all of the skilled immigrant labor needed at a critical time in the planting season. This threatens our ability to put food on Americans’ tables,” federation pres- ident Zippy Duvall said in a statement. The federation said it is working with the Trump administration to find safe, practi- cal ways to admit farm laborers as emergen- cy workers under the H-2A guest worker pro- gram. “Failing to do so will impact our ability to provide a healthy, af- fordable domestic food supply,” Duvall said. Many seasonal workers will still be granted entry. The State Department is allowing laborers with previous work experience in the United States and who do not require in-person interviews to return, according to the feder-

By TRACY JAN and LAURA REILEY Washington Post News Service American farm- ers are bracing for a shortage of season- al workers following the State Department’s suspension of routine immigrant and nonim- migrant visa processing in Mexico, including for temporary migrant laborers, beginning Wednesday. The delay in visa processing for farm- workers comes just as harvest season begins in Florida. Companies responsible for feed- ing the country are already expecting few- er available workers to manufacture, deliver and unpack groceries as the coronavirus pan- demic intensifies. The seafood indus- try, including fisheries and crab-picking in Maryland, whose hiring season starts in April, will also be affected by the U.S. government’s decision. “One of the most im- portant things we need to do is to make sure that our supply chains for food stay in place,

Zack Wittman / For the Washington Post Fruit pickers work in a strawberry field in Florida last winter. Farmers are bracing for a labor shortage this year as the State Department suspends the processing of seasonal worker visas across Mexico.

Please see VISA, Page F8

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