Farm & Ranch - March 2020


MARCH 2020

VISAS from Page F7

tinue processing H-2A visas for agricultur- al workers and H-2B visas for seasonal la- borers in the seafood, landscaping and other industries — but that it will modify its proce- dures “to facilitate the social distancing rec- ommended by health authorities,” according to an email obtained by The Washington Post. The U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, said it would prior-

agency is working with the State Department to ensure minimal disruption in visa appli- cations. The State Department did not respond to re- quests for comment. The agency has told industry associations that it intends to con-

itize the processing of returning season- al workers who are eligible for an inter- view waiver. “Because limited interview ap- pointments will be available, we may can- cel some first-time applicant appointments that have already been scheduled,” the email said. “First-time ap- plications will not be processed if they are submitted as returning applicants.”

Allowing return- ing H-2A workers to be processed without inter- views will help ease the plight of farmers count- ing on foreign labor, but it “certainly will not solve the entire prob- lem,” said Mike Carlton, director of labor re- lations at the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. Florida grows 300 commercial crops, near- ly all of which depend on migrant laborers, he said. “We have very few domestic workers avail- able to us,” Carlton said. “The numbers are not sustainable for us.” Labor-intensive, hand- harvested crops will be hit the hardest by the de- lay in visa processing, he said, especially as crunchtime for Florida farms approaches in the fall. Michael Schadler, ex- ecutive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, a trade orga- nization, says the state’s tomato producers rely especially on H-2A la- borers. “It’s become a bigger part of our workforce in recent years,” he said. “This latest devel- opment puts at risk a portion of our tomato crop from being harvest- ed, as well as all kinds of crops from around the country. We need a quick resolution so that farmers can con- tinue supplying fruits and vegetables to the country during this challenging time.” There will prob- ably be widespread unemployment in the hospitality, travel and tourism fields due to coronavirus quaran- tines and curfews. But Carlton said laid-off hotel and restaurant workers are unlikely to fill the labor shortage in food production.

tential source of labor,” he says, “but it does re- quire a certain amount of skill to be productive in harvesting fruits and vegetables. You need to get produce harvest- ed when it’s ready to be harvested. Delays due to inexperienced work- ers could mean losses of crop. This work has not generally been some- thing that domestic workers are willing to do.” California is like- ly to be hardest hit, bringing in only half of the migrant labor it will need, according to Jason Resnick, vice president and gener- al counsel for Western Growers, a trade group. Historically 50% to 60% of the seasonal farm- workers are returning, Resnick said. Of those, 10 to 15%would have issues that would not qualify them for the in- terview waivers. The state’s $45 billion agriculture industry produces nearly half of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables, and em- ploys roughly 800,000 farmworkers. In the past five years, more than 40% of California farmers reportedly have been unable to hire all the workers they have needed, with many turn- ing to mechanization to make up for the short- fall. Growers in Salinas, California, will be af- fected first. They were scheduled to have work- ers arrive at the end of March, working fields of lettuces and leafy greens. “The application pro- cess requires that you apply two months before you need the work- ers,” Resnick said, “So summer fruits and vege- tables could get stacked up like dominoes. It’s go- ing to affect the entire

ation. In 2019, 258,000 migrant workers re- ceived H-2A visas, the vast majority of whom were fromMexico. The U.S. Agriculture Department said the

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