The H-2A application process had its challenges this spring in getting the farm workers needed from Mexico to Florida and Georgia. Veronica Nigh, economist with American Farm Bureau, believes the process should continue to improve next season amid the coronavirus pandemic, even if a vaccine is not in place.
“A good deal of uncertainty was presented both to farmers and to workers early on (this year) because we really didn’t know what we were dealing with and how long it would be. Even though the administration worked hard to get the program to continue to be operable, there were some delays,” Nigh said. “The fact that we now know more about COVID-19 and were able to put procedures in place should make for a significant reduction in that uncertainty.”
Applications Processed Timely
According to a previous VSCNews article, H-2A applications during the third quarter, or when COVID-19 first impacted the U.S., were processed in a timely fashion, which happens when an application is resolved 30 days before the needed start date. For the period of April 1 through June 30, 96% of applications were processed in a “timely” manner.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-2A program allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Florida is the largest user of the H-2A program during the first three quarters of the year. It listed 28,005 certified positions. Georgia, another user of the program, listed a little more than 23,000 certified positions.
“Fair Amount of Challenges”
“There was a fair amount of challenges of actually physically getting some workers to the U.S., figuring out transportation. A lot of folks fly, and a lot of routes were closed down. Certainly, the airlines are learning more about (COVID-19) than they knew six months ago,” Nigh said.
“Same thing with how do we safely transport a group of people in an enclosed airspace like a van or a bus? What sort of spacing requirements are necessary in order to make that travel safe? Every day, every week we’re learning more about how this actually spreads and how to prevent that. One would expect next year will go even smoother than this year given that we continue to learn more even if we don’t have a vaccine at that point.”
Nigh said more than 90% of H-2A workers come from Mexico.