Thursday, May 05, 2016

Delays in guest worker visas cost farmers big; blueberries aren't made for machine picking

Agricultural groups say federal agencies take too long processing visas for the H2-A guest worker program, detailing last month to Congress how the slow process has negatively impacted shorthanded farmers. One example is in Georgia, where a blueberry farmer who requested 100 workers has yet to see any and another who asked for 500 has only received 30, Aaron Gould Sheinin reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One said the delay has cost him $750,000.

"The American Farm Bureau Federation reported in April that the H-2A program is processing twice as many applications as a decade ago and that requests are up 13 percent this year from 2015," Sheinin writes. "The increased demand is also contributing to the delays. Department of Labor data show only 90 percent of H-2A applications received in the second quarter of the federal government’s fiscal year were processed in a 'timely' manner, meaning 30 days before the farmer says he or she needs the workers to arrive. That’s down from 99 percent in the first quarter. More than 74,500 applications have been processed since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, including more than 6,000 from Georgia—the third-most in the country. In 2015, the department processed 97 percent of nearly 140,000 applications on time."

Blueberry farmers say they can pick with machines, but that squashes many berries or knocks them to the ground. One farmer said machine picking cost him 25 percent of his crop, Sheinin writes. "Meanwhile, thousands of migrant workers are waiting for clearance in Monterrey, Mexico," including at least 150 that Bill Brim expected at his 600-acre farm in South Georgia. Brim told Sheinin, “I’ve been doing the H-2A program since 1997. We’ve been doing it and doing it right. It looks like they could fast-track some of these people who have been coming back and forth to us since 1997. It’s not like they don’t know these people are good people that come in and don’t cause any problems.” (Read more)

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