Industry Partners Reach Out to Government on New Visa Restrictions for Ag Workers
U.S. and MEXICO - The Department of State sent a ripple of worry throughout the industry with its recent decision to suspend regular visa processing at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and all U.S. consulates in Mexico in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Representatives of the fresh produce industry have come forward to alert the Department of the repercussions this could have.
According to an update from the Produce Marketing Association, effective March 18, only seasonal workers would be allowed into the United States, which the association noted would have a significant impact on the availability of farm labor at a crucial time when retailers are working to meet very heavy consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“PMA is working with government and other industry partners to request an agricultural exception for the H-2A visa,” the association shared with its members. “Also damaging to trade would be any restrictions to the H-1B business visa that allows Mexican truckers to deliver product across the border into the United States. As with H-2A, PMA is working with government and other industry partners to request an exception.”
The Agricultural Workforce Coalition sent a letter to Secretary Mike Pompeo, as well as Secretary Sonny Perdue, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer imploring reconsideration.
Signed by 13 representative groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association, USAFarmers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and several more, the letter urges the Administration to recognize all H-2A and other non-immigrant visa petitions involving an agricultural worker as “essential” and direct the U.S. Consulates to treat all agricultural worker appointments as emergency visa services. The letter can be read in full here.
It seems that the cries are being heard, as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced yesterday a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Labor. According to news source The Fence Post, this will help facilitate the identification of foreign and domestic workers that may be available and eligible to transfer to other U.S. agricultural sector employers to fulfill critical workforce needs within the U.S. under existing regulatory authority during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United Fresh Produce Association released a follow-up note applauding the response to urgent requests to provide flexibility for U.S. farmers utilizing the H-2A program.
“United Fresh has worked across the supply chain to ensure the integrity of the essential services we’re providing go uninterrupted in these unprecedented times,” said Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association. “With this announcement, we’re making incremental progress, but must continue to work hard to ensure that Americans have access to fresh produce, meeting our most critical mission.”
United Fresh said it has been pressing the issue and the Administration throughout this crisis, along with industry stakeholders.
Although a need to push for accelerating the visa process for those coming from outside the United States still exists, yesterday’s announcement will help facilitate more workers to be available.
Even those whose workforce is domestic have stepped up to say that, as a whole, this is an important issue to resolve. Ian Lemay, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, shared that even though the association’s specific workforce is not dependent on the H-2A program, many are.
“We are extremely supportive of efforts to come to a solution that will allow H-2A visas to be processed. We know that many of our peers throughout U.S. agriculture rely on the H-2A program specifically for their labor. For the 13 commodities that CFFA represents, we are fortunate that most of our employees are located domestically. Members of CFFA are eager to provide the highest quality and freshest fruit during the upcoming season,” he commented.
As our industry continues to work toward safe, universal solutions around the challenges COVID-19 has presented us, AndNowUKnow will continue to report the latest efforts and developments.