The US government announced that starting Wednesday, March 18, it would suspend new applications for the H2A guest worker program, which allows foreigners to enter the United States to fill temporary jobs in agriculture. This announcement has been a severe blow for US fruit and vegetable producers, as it comes at a critical time when consumers are emptying stores to prepare for a possible quarantine.
The State Department has limited visa processing in many countries, as governments try to reduce contact and curb the spread of COVID-19. On Monday night, the United States announced restrictions on Mexico.
Although the harvest of grains, such as wheat and corn, is mostly automated in the United States, fruit and vegetable growers rely on guest seasonal workers to harvest their crops.
"When the process stops halfway, those people are not likely to be there at the moment they are needed, if at all. That means producers will lose crops. That means we'll all lose food," said Dave Puglia, the president of the Western Growers Association, which represents fruit and vegetable growers in states like California and Arizona.
"We just don't have the national workforce to do this. We are turning more and more to H2A workers because there is no other way to harvest and pack our crops and deliver them to consumers," he said.
In 2019, more than 77,000 H2A visas were certified in March and April, i.e. nearly 28% of all H2A visas last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Source: Reuters / infobae.com