The US 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 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.
“The American people need a stable food supply to maintain healthy diets and strong immune systems, especially now during this national health crisis,” states the Ag Workforce Coalition letter. “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.”
The Ag Workforce Coalition letter can be read here.