H-2A Delays Cost Farmers Profits and Customers
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are responsible for processing H-2A guest worker visa applications, but farmers are seeing delays of up to two weeks in the arrival of these workers on their Michigan farms. One reason for the delays is the DOL's failure to meet statutory deadlines.
The delays have left farmers without skilled seasonal workers to tend to and harvest their crops, causing for reduced customer lists as stores take their business elsewhere when orders are not fulfilled. Some farmers have also been forced to leave 20 percent of their crop on the field because of a lack of workers to harvest them.
Michigan, once the top state in blueberry cultivation, has recently dropped to second behind Georgia because of a lack of skilled workers. Although experiencing a similar worker shortage, Oregon and Washington are also climbing the blueberry cultivation rankings shortly behind Michigan.
Gordon Wenk, Deputy Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, stated the pitfalls of the H-2A administration stem largely from inadequate technology and a lack of personnel. Michigan Farm Bureau's newest affiliate, Great Lakes Ag Labor Services (GLALS), has seen increased participation from Michigan farmers seeking a larger labor pool. The program works directly with participating farmers and recruiters in Mexico to ultimately deliver workers to Michigan farms.
Michigan Congressman Fred Upton has pledged his support to farmers in pursuit of increasing H-2A worker eligibility. He has promised the assistance of his office to any farmer who finds themselves "stuck in the system."
This article was written by Lauren Potocsky, a summer associate at Varnum in 2016. Lauren is currently a student at Wayne State University Law School.