Covid-19 and H-2A

Covid-19 and H-2A

David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
I’ll never forget listening to Pastor Mike Schlagel Prehime at an Idaho Farm Bureau meeting as he spoke about the misguided fears of immigrants. "So much of the fear that is around immigration reform is economic fear. Fear of loss of jobs, fear that the economic system is being unduly burdened by immigrants. My colleagues have shared that that is not true. Our immigrant families, brothers and sisters, are contributing to the economy, they are providing jobs, they are filling jobs that are necessary and needed. We can create policy that is based out of love and care. That is because it is a positive economic impact. Many of those fears that we have and that we speak about in our political rhetoric are not true fears. They are true fears in that it is a legitimate fear to be fearful about.

A State Department's decision to not process new H-2A visas means a sever agriculture labor shortage this season.

Last year alone, the Department of Labor certified a quarter of a million H2-A requests from US farmers.

It works this way: when the Labor Department certifies the farm positions, Ag operations are then allowed to recruit workers who complete the visa applications in US consulates. State Department data shows that last year it issued 204-thousand H-2A visas to workers from around the world. While at least 180,000 came from Mexico.

The U.S. State Department will not process new H-2A visas during the COVID-19 crisis and that leaves a chronic need for farm labor this summer. Farm Bureau member Chalmers Carr, a farmer from South Carolina, says the decision means farmers can’t have access to new H-2A workers.

“Luckily for us, we’ve been in the H-2A program for 22 years now. So, everybody this year except for 15 out of our 727 are all returning workers. So, the impact on our operation, if it only remains to new workers, will not be that impactful,” said Carr.

However, If the issue is not resolved, Carr says there could be a production decline.

“Last year, there were 205,000 H-2A workers that were entered into this county. This year, that number was projected somewhere north of 235,000. So, that already means 30,000 were going to be new workers. And then if you add on to that the percentage of workers that don’t return, we could have potentially 50,000 fewer H-2A workers coming into this county. The bottom line is if this isn’t corrected and this virus doesn’t go away, I am concerned that we will see less production than desired,” added Carr.

Farmers say in the meantime, they are taking steps to help workers reduce their risk of getting COVID-19.

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