After worrisome delays in July, Washington growers relying on the H-2A guest worker program for fall apple harvest were relieved to find system again working at expected levels in August.
“Although there are still problems with the process, workers are getting visas,” Roxana Macias, manager for Lacey-based Washington Farm Labor Association’s H-2A program, said in a news release. “We are thankful to Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Denny Heck, and the consulates in Tijuana and Hermosillo for recognizing the critical role these workers play in our state’s economy.”
The routine two-day border crossing for guest farm workers in Mexico traveling to the U.S. bogged down early in July and came to a near standstill by July 20 because of a computer glitch in the government’s visa database, according to the State Department at the time. Delays in visa approvals for guest farm workers stretched to as long as two weeks, industry sources said.
Washington growers requested more than 8,700 legal foreign workers through the government program this year, according to the release. Most of the workers are already in the state, but 1,500 are scheduled to arrive in coming weeks.
The Washington Farm Labor Association accounts for about 80% of Washington H-2A employers and scheduled 725 consulate appointments during the week of August 11, according to the release.
Long-term issues with the program still need to be addressed to make the program more efficient and help provide a reliable, legal and stable seasonal workforce, Dan Fazio, director of the group, said in the release.
“The current system is not ideal, but we have faith that working together with agency staff and elected officials will result in solutions for Northwest growers,” Macias said in the release.