N.C. agriculture avoids labor shortage after State Department removes visa restrictions

·2 min read

After concerns over labor shortages for agriculture work in the U.S., the State Department announced Friday that they would remove suspensions of routine visa services enacted due to COVID-19 safety measures.

As a result, a main sector of North Carolina’s economy will avoid missing out on a much-needed seasonal workforce — mainly from Mexico — who receive H-2A visas to work temporarily in the U.S., then return home.

On March 17, the State Department suspended routine visa services across U.S. embassies and consulates to fight coronavirus spread, allowing only workers who had previously been issued visas to return.

The lack of new visas issued to first-time workers quickly prompted backlash from local and federal lawmakers.

The removal of suspensions follows a letter authored last week by North Carolina Republicans Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. Richard Hudson signed by over 100 members of Congress. It was addressed to the State Department, the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security, urging that the nation’s agriculture and food supply chains were at stake from the restrictions.

Sen. Brent Jackson, a Republican from Sampson County who runs Jackson Farming Company in Autryville that uses H-2A labor, had issued a statement in response as well.

“The potential disruption of visa processing and limitations to visa processing and limitations to visa programs could significantly alter our state’s economy and our nation’s food supply chain,” Jackson said.

Tillis thanked the federal government for acting on the matter. “While we work together as a nation to combat the coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure Americans have abundant access to food and give producers the workers they need to keep the supply chain strong,” said Tillis in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Friday afternoon that “H-2 visas are essential to our economy and food security. I am taking decisive action to keep visas flowing while keeping our team safe.”

Javier Hernández, a Mexican farmworker from San Luis Potosí, had told The News & Observer in a WhatsApp message in Spanish that he would have benefitted from the extra hours due to a labor shortage.

But for the new workers who wouldn’t be able to get visas, “it’s going to be harder since finding a job here in Mexico with good pay is harder and those of us who come to work the fields in the U.S. have more economic stability.”

According to the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program, there were over 21,000 foreign farmworkers in North Carolina working during the previous agricultural season.

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