America’s nearly four billion dollar winter vegetable harvest is in jeopardy. The Obama Administration needs to take immediate action to expedite pending foreign worker visa applications that have been stalled during the government shutdown.
The Office of Foreign Labor Certification at the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) has been shuttered since Oct. 1 and the processing of H-2A applications were halted just when the growing season for winter vegetables was getting under way. Ninety percent of the country’s vegetables are grown in the desert regions of Arizona and California in winter time Applications have not been processed for more than two weeks and the backlog of paperwork is growing. If H-2A workers are not in place by November 18, consequences will be dire. It usually takes at least eight weeks to process the applications of H-2A workers.
“The H-2A program has never been efficient, or responsive to the needs of employers or workers even in the best of times,” said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. “Inaction by Congress on immigration reform has forced many farmers to turn to the H-2A program in desperation, but if these applications are not processed in an expedited manner, the Yuma and Imperial winter vegetable harvest, which relies on thousands of H-2A workers, will suffer from lack of workers and consumers will face a shortage of domestic fresh produce. Prices will surely rise as supplies diminish.”
The H-2A visa program is the only visa program U.S. farmers can use to hire much-needed foreign workers when the labor supply in agriculture expands at harvest time. Thirty to 50 percent of agricultural workers in Yuma County (AZ) and Imperial County (CA) are H-2A guest workers during the winter season. The government agencies involved in the H-2A process must implement contingency plans for expediting these applications immediately upon the resumption of the government so workers can be ready when needed.