Will Immigrant Ag Workers Be Allowed in the U.S.?

10:56PM Mar 23, 2020
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U.S. borders to the North and South are now impacted due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

During a press conference on Friday, President Trump said the U.S. – Mexico border will be closed to nonessential travel in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“As we did with Canada, we are working with our border in Mexico to suspend nonessential travel,” said President Trump.

The Department of Homeland Security assures there won’t be interruptions with trade — posting on social media that essential commercial activity will not be impacted and a strong and secure economic supply chain will be maintained.

“We want to make sure cargo continues, trade continues and healthcare workers continue to be able to traverse that border,” said Chad Wolf, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security and Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Strategy, Policy and Plans.

However, growers who need immigrant ag labor from Mexico, especially those who use the H-2A temporary agricultural program, are concerned. The U.S Embassy in Mexico suspended the processing of non-emergency visas earlier in the week.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is trying to get H-2A visas under the emergency category. Farmers and ranchers are now on the front lines when it comes to fighting the impact of COVID-19, thanks to a decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The agency is recognizing thousands of jobs in agriculture and related fields as “essential critical infrastructure workers.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released its critical infrastructure industry guidance and included agriculture, but it’s only a guidance for now.

“This new border closure is just unfolding right now,” said Allison Crittenden, director of congressional relations with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We are waiting to see how H-2A will be treated for that new guidance.”

As of Friday, some visas were being processed, but not all of them. It’s especially a scare since the American Farm Bureau Federation said 93% of H2A workers came from Mexico during 2018.

“We are still waiting to hear from the State Department if they are able to identify how many individuals or what percentage of H-2A applicants fall under that interview waiver,” Crittenden said.

Chalmers Carr III, president and CEO of Titan Farms, the largest peach grower on the East Coast, said 100% of his temporary workforce in the summer is made up of H-2A workers.

“I employ 727 H-2A workers, or anticipated workers for this year,” Carr said. “We have 390 of those in the country already.”

Carr had 68 immigrant ag workers arrive to his business by bus late last week.

“About 40% of the H-2A workforce crosses between mid-March and mid-May,” he said. “In general, if we were to have a border closing right now that would be on a significant workforce.”

Farmers hope it doesn’t impact weeks of preparation on the farm.

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