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Guest workers are an important labor source for many farms in Ohio. Photo provided by Witten Farm.

U.S. halts visa application processing in Mexico

U.S. agriculture is working diligently to maintain the stability of our food supply as concerns over COVID-19 lead to increased consumer purchases of groceries and other items. At the same time, the United States is suspending routine immigrant and nonimmigrant processing visa services in Mexico beginning March 18, 2020 to combat the spread of the virus. This is a serious concern, said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president.

“Farmers and ranchers remain committed to doing the work in the fields, orchards and barns across the country to ensure Americans have access to healthy, affordable food. Particularly now, during these challenging times, an assured food supply allows families to focus on the safety and well-being of their loved ones. We commend the good work being done to protect families and our population and appreciate all the workers focused on ensuring food gets from our farms to grocery stores, and of course we are grateful for the health care workers ensuring we can treat those who are ill and contain the pandemic,” Duvall said. “The decision to halt visa application processing in Mexico will restrict the number of immigrant workers being allowed to enter the country. Under the new restrictions, American farmers will not have access to all of the skilled immigrant labor needed at a critical time in the planting season. This threatens our ability to put food on Americans’ tables.”

In 2019, 258,000 immigrant workers were approved under the H-2A guest worker program. Immigrant laborers with previous work experience in the U.S. and who do not require in-person interviews will be allowed to return in the H-2A program.

“We fully support the administration’s efforts to protect the public during this health crisis. We are in constant contact with USDA, the State Department and the White House,” Duvall said. “We have urged them to find safe, practical ways to admit farm laborers as emergency workers for visa purposes while still protecting public health. Failing to do so will impact our ability to provide a healthy, affordable domestic food supply.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is aware of the issue and has publicly pledged to work with the State Department to ensure needed farm laborers are safely admitted.

“We will remain watchful and vigilant to ensure U.S. agriculture and others in the food supply chain are able to continue feeding America, as we do 365 days a year,” Duvall said. “We are in close communication with our state Farm Bureaus, Congress and the administration as we all work together to protect our food supply and our communities in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The USDA asks that questions regarding the H-2A program be directed to farmers.gov/manage/h2a or email aglabor@usda.gov.

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