The U.S. Apple Association joined other national agriculture organizations calling on the State Department to expedite all H-2A and other non-immigrant agricultural worker visas. In a letter to Secretary Mike Pompeo, the Ag Workforce Coalition, of which USApple is a founding member, called for the State Department to treat all agricultural workers under emergency visa services. The urgency comes after the State Department announced on Monday, March 16th, it would suspend regular visa processing at the embassy in Mexico City and all consulates in Mexico in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Growers across the country have workers who have just arrived or will be arriving in the next few weeks to do the critical tasks of planting, pruning and general readying of the orchards, which is critical for a healthy abundant crop,” said USApple President and CEO Jim Bair. “Without these workers, those critical tasks cannot be completed, and the quality and size of the apple crop will be greatly impacted.”
The H-2A program has more than doubled in the past few years, with much of the growth attributable to apples. While most H-2A workers come to harvest apples, a critical early crew arrives typically between mid-March to mid-April to ready apple trees for the season. These jobs, too, are now increasingly being done by H-2A guest workers.
Below is an excerpt of the letter:
“As you know, many sectors within the agriculture industry are highly labor-intensive and especially dependent upon foreign labor, including the H-2A agricultural visa program, and other non-immigrant agricultural worker visas to meet labor needs. Like much of agriculture, the production for many of our crops is set to begin this month. A significant number of farmers have applications currently pending, or will soon be filed, with appointments at U.S. Consulates scheduled beginning next week.”
“An interruption to the processing of agricultural worker visas will undoubtedly cause a significant disruption to the U.S. food supply. As you know, the Food and Agriculture Sector, responsible for food manufacturing, processing, and storage facilities, accounts for one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity and has been designated a “Critical Infrastructure Sector” by the Department of Homeland Security.”
“In order to ensure uninterrupted food, crop, and commodity production, we urge you to recognize all H-2A, as well as any other non-immigrant visa petition involving an agricultural worker, visa consular processing functions as “essential” and direct the US Consulates to treat all agricultural worker appointments as emergency visa services.”
“The American people need a stable food supply to maintain healthy diets and strong immune systems, especially now during this national health crisis. The failure to take necessary action to protect our food supply will result in bare shelves in grocery store produce aisles, not from panic buying, but as the result of the federal government directly causing a shortage of critical labor. We urge you and the President to not let that happen.”
To read the full letter, click here.