Delays from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the processing of visas for farm workers are fast approaching crisis proportions, increasing the threat that crops will rot in the field on many farms this year, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall said in a media conference call this week.
Farmers have become dependent on the H-2A agricultural visa program to fill gaps in the nation’s ag labor system, but the program is posing several major challenges to the management of America’s production operations. Processing and procedural delays, such as the government’s use of U.S. mail instead of electronic communications, are leading to losses from unharvested crops. Duval stressed that communications with state Farm Bureaus across the nation have revealed worker shortages in more than 20 states.
“Many farmer members have called us and state Farm Bureaus asking for help,” Duvall said. “They face serious hurdles in getting visas for workers in time to tend and harvest this year’s crops. Paperwork delays have created a backlog of 30 days or more in processing H-2A applications at both the DOL and the USCIS. The H-2A needs to be brought into the 21st Century. The DOL and USCIS both rely on corrections being made by mail, not electronically. I’m not sure that there is anything in our country that does that anymore.”
Joining Duvall on the conference call were Gary Black, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Several farmers from across the nation were present on the call as well. Bill Brim from Georgia, Carlos Castaneda from California, and Jen Costanza from Michigan each described the specific challenges they are currently facing with securing adequate workers to tend and harvest this year’s crops.
“Crops can’t wait on paperwork,” Duvall said. “DOL is routinely failing to approve applications 30 days prior to the day farmers need workers. That delay, coupled with delays occurring at USCIS, places farmers in an impossible situation. We’ve heard from members who are already missing their window of opportunity to harvest. They are already facing lost revenue.”
Duvall repeated AFBF’s call for Congress to pass responsible immigration reform that enables farmers the ability to access a legal and stable workforce, and included an outline for possible solutions to the challenge. He also stated that AFBF is also working with the Agriculture Department “to be an advocate for farmers and take whatever steps it can to ensure farmers get the workers they need to tend and harvest this year’s crops.”
Listen to the full Media teleconference here:
AFBF Media Teleconference, Labor Visa Backlogs