President Donald Trump assured farmers on Tuesday that the H-2A visa program would not be affected by a temporary immigration ban related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Trump announced the immigration suspension in a tweet Monday night, “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”
White House officials had no comment on the issue Tuesday, but at the White House coronavirus hearing Tuesday evening, Trump said "the farmers will not be affected by this at all."
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Tuesday morning calling for a formal exemption for H-2A from the executive order.
“While we strongly support efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, last night’s announcement from President Trump has created concerns for many in agriculture. As you know, many producers are dependent upon foreign labor, including the H-2A visa program to meet labor needs,” the letter says. “Thanks to your leadership and hard work in the early days of this crisis, the State Department has prioritized processing of H-2A applications and the Department of Homeland Security has exempted H-2A visa holders as critical essential workers who can cross from Mexico into the U.S.”
Explaining the rationale for the immigration suspension, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump "is committed to protecting the health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented times. As President Trump has said, ‘Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African American and Latino workers.’ At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary.”
Farm groups were already worried about getting a sufficient number of H-2A workers this spring.
The administration last week announced a new temporary final rule that allows H-2A petitioners concerned about travel restrictions prohibiting H-2A workers from entering the country to hire H-2A workers already in the country.
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According to media reports, the administration is also is considering whether it can lower the minimum wage rates — known as the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) — in the H-2A. During a conference call Friday night with reporters on a $19 billion COVID-19 farm aid package, Perdue was asked about the issue. He didn’t answer directly but said H-2A wage rates weren’t part of that relief plan.
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