In the face of skyrocketing unemployment, the federal government continues to put foreign workers on a fast track for U.S. agricultural jobs.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo authorized consular officers to waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 (semi-skilled, blue-collar) applicants, including farm workers.
“We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview,” Pompeo wrote in a March 26 memo.
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, pitched in last month by raising the limit on H-2B (non-agricultural) visas. On Thursday, Wolf tweeted that he had put his order on hold, but Pompeo’s directive stands, even as nearly 10 million Americans filed new unemployment claims over the past two weeks.
Amidst the rapidly rising tide of joblessness, Fox News reported “there has been a particular focus on the H-2A [agricultural]program recently due to questions about the food supply in a time of the coronavirus crisis.”
“The failure to take necessary action to protect our food supply will result in bare shelves in grocery store produce aisles, not from panic buying, but as the result of the federal government directly causing a shortage of critical labor,” the Agriculture Workforce Coalition stated in a March 17 letter to Pompeo.
Last year, farm companies hired roughly 250,000 H-2A foreign workers. With no cap on such visas, and relentless pressure from the industry, Pompeo’s waiver opens the door to criminals and other miscreants.
The surreal scenario of foreign workers flooding into the U.S. at a time of historically accelerating unemployment would have appalled Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder, who would have turned 93 this week, railed against growers’ exploitation of illegal laborers, and despised the depressing effects foreign workers had on American wages.
The latest counterproductive and unnecessary turn of the screw highlighted a missed opportunity in Washington.
“The Trump administration could have used the coronavirus bill to address food security issues through mechanization grants and no-interest loans,” said R.J. Hauman, FAIR’s director of government relations.
“Instead, they bought into the agriculture lobby’s pathetic, despicable plea – that a country of over 320 million people on the cusp of record unemployment can’t get its own food harvested without cheap foreign labor.”