In this file:
· H-2A employers find complications with COVID-19 outbreak
· USDA and DOL Announce Information Sharing to Assist H-2A Employers
H-2A employers find complications with COVID-19 outbreak
by Tom Karst, AgWeb
Mar 18, 2020
Farmers who use the H-2A guest worker program are facing COVID-19-related delays in the processing and approval of those workers.
Effective March 18, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said the embassy and all U.S. consulates in Mexico will suspend routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services because of social distancing precautions related to the global pandemic COVID-19.
On the heels of that, the Department of Homeland Security on March 19 issued a document on what it is calling the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce during the outbreak, putting farm workers and people in the food supply chain in that group.
That same day, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor to help find both foreign and domestic workers for agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ensuring minimal disruption for our agricultural workforce during these uncertain times is a top priority for this administration,” Perdue said in the release. “President Trump knows that these workers are critical to maintaining our food supply and our farmers and ranchers are counting on their ability to work. We will continue to work to make sure our supply chain is impacted as minimally as possible.”
Last year, the H-2A program brought in more than 200,000 guest workers, the biggest number yet, and growth was expected again this year.
For Shay Myers, CEO of Owyhee Produce, Nyssa, Ore., the delays in processing H-2A workers will cost him the company’s asparagus and sweet potato crops. The company was planning to bring in 48 H-2A workers from Mexico to harvest the firm’s asparagus crop and then help plant the sweet potato crop.
State Department officials, however, told him they could only deliver five workers to his farm when harvest begins in early April.
“We will lose our entire asparagus crop,” and won’t be able to plant sweet potatoes, he said March 18.
No domestic workers are available to harvest asparagus, even at $15 per hour or more.
“We need people to realize that if we don’t have workers, they don’t have food,” he said, “This is an absolute, complete disruption to our food supply.”
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USDA and DOL Announce Information Sharing to Assist H-2A Employers
Source: USDA Office of Communications
Mar 19, 2020
(Washington, D.C., March 19, 2020) - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to help facilitate the identification of foreign and domestic workers that may be available and eligible to transfer to other U.S. agricultural sector employers to fulfill critical workforce needs within the U.S. under existing regulatory authority during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ensuring minimal disruption for our agricultural workforce during these uncertain times is a top priority for this administration,” Secretary Perdue said. “President Trump knows that these workers are critical to maintaining our food supply and our farmers and ranchers are counting on their ability to work. We will continue to work to make sure our supply chain is impacted as minimally as possible.”
“American farmers and ranchers are at the frontlines of maintaining the nation’s food supply,” Secretary Scalia said. “In these unprecedented times, it is critical for them to have the workforce they need. This new partnership between USDA and DOL will help support our farmers, ranchers, and American families.”
USDA and DOL have identified nearly 20,000 H-2A and H-2B certified positions that have expiring contracts in the coming weeks. There will be workers leaving these positions who could be available to transfer to a different employer’s labor certification. The data, available on www.farmers.gov/manage/h2a, includes the number of certified worker positions, the current employer name and contact, attorney/agent name and contact, and the worksite address. This information will be a resource to H-2A employers whose workforce has been delayed because of travel restrictions or visa processing limitations. Employers should be aware that all statutory and regulatory requirements continue to apply. Employers are encouraged to monitor www.travel.state.gov for the latest information and should monitor the relevant Embassy/Consular websites for specific operational information.