On May 9, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the Department of State announced changes to the approval process to the H-2A program, the federal government’s program to provide agriculture guestworkers to sectors such as the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. Specifically, the two agencies are putting in place an electronic process that will allow USCIS to send approval information for H-2A petitions to the State Department by the end of the next business day. The changes are intended to reduce delays for employers wishing to hire H-2A workers and to reduce the amount of paperwork between the two agencies to help streamline the process. The announcement follows efforts by United Fresh members to raise the issue of H-2A processing delays and the resulting loss of productivity with policymakers on Capitol Hill.
During an April 27 hearing before a House Agriculture Subcommittee, United Fresh member Maureen Torrey, Vice President of Torrey Farms, a vegetable provider outside of Elba, NY, told members of Congress that significant delays in the processing of H-2A applications is a major factor that adds to the cost of production. On April 22, United Fresh Board member Bill Brim, President of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton, Georgia also participated in meetings in Washington, D.C. with House and Senate offices, as well as joined a media luncheon with American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duval, to warn that many growers across the country are experiencing significant bureaucratic delays in getting H-2A workers.
While the recognition that the program needs improvement is helpful, United Fresh will continue to collaborate with industry partners to press policymakers and regulators for further improvements to the H-2A program. For more information, the USCIS and State Department announcement can be found here.