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US (FL): Good news for citrus, strawberry growers

Top federal officials Wednesday assured Sen. Bill Nelson they can fast-track applications for agricultural guest workers that were delayed by the 16-day government shutdown.

The response came after Nelson addressed the Florida Citrus Commission on his efforts to get federal agencies to fast track guest-worker applications under a federal program known as H-2A.

"The consequence, if you can't get the crops picked, is that they will rot on the tree," Nelson said in a news conference after his 15-minute speech to the commission, the governing body of the Florida Department of Citrus.

Nelson told the commission he expected to hear from the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Labor and State about the fast-track effort. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also must clear the visa applications.

A statement from Nelson's office said the senator got a positive response about 3 p.m.

"The Department of Labor is working with Customs (under the Department of Homeland Security) to expedite the process. They understand the time crunch with the harvest," the statement said. "They will have additional staff working on processing these visas for the next 30 days to clear the backlog. They think, with the additional staff, they will be able to clear the backlog in less than 30 days."

Representatives of Florida's citrus and strawberry industries said they must have guest workers by early December, when harvesting begins in earnest.


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