You may have seen the story by the AJC’s Aaron Gould Sheinin earlier this week describing the losses Georgia’s farmers are incurring because they can’t get the migrant workers they need to pick their crops, which for this time of year is blueberries. For one farmer, the loss is north of three quarter million dollars. Multiply that to account for others in the same boat, and you have a real burden for Georgia’s agriculture industry.
The problem appears to lie in a backlog at the U.S. Department of Labor, which processes the visas low skilled foreign workers need to enter the country.
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.
The Georgia congressional delegation recently sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez asking the the department expedite the unprocessed applications which is preventing the Peach State’s farmers from harvesting more than 20 types of fruits and vegetables. The delegation wrote,
It has come to our attention that the Department of Labor has accumulated a significant backlog of H-2A visa labor applications. This backlog has placed Georgia’s fruit and vegetable industry, as well as our state’s rural communities, in jeopardy. We ask that necessary steps be taken to expedite these applications so Georgia farmers can continue to provide their products to American consumers.
The letter was signed by Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, along with Representatives, Rick Allen, Sanford Bishop, Lynn Westmoreland, Hanj Johnson, Rob Woodall, Austin Scott, Jody Hice, Rick Allen, David Scott, and Austin Graves. The specialty crop industry has a $4.5 billion economic impact in Georgia.