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Government Says Shutdown Unlikely To Delay Guestworker Visas, But Farmers Still Unsure

Workers at the Talbott farm harvest some of the last grapes of the season in early October.

More than 240,000 guestworkers, many from Mexico, work on U.S. farms for several months each year as a part of the federal H-2A visa program. This year, farmers and industry associations worry the ongoing government shutdown could impede the workers’ arrival.

But the visa program, which is overseen by no fewer than three U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security, is unimpeded. That’s according to officials from the Office of Foreign Labor Certification and United States Citizen and Immigration Services. Both of those agencies are fully funded.

However, due to the shutdown over border security and the funding of a border wall, farmers are temporarily unable to use the E-Verify system to make sure workers are allowed to work in the U.S.

It’s a critical time in the guestworker calendar: In states like Colorado, Illinois and Missouri, the bulk of H-2A visa holders show up in January and February. And confusion persists among farmers, said Tom Bortnyk with Mas Labor, a labor-contracting firm that helps farmers apply for visa workers.

He said he’s heard from several clients who are concerned workers won’t arrive on time, but noted that “there has not been any adverse effects from the government shutdown, it’s been pretty smooth sailing.”  

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which also oversees the guestworker program, was unable to comment because the agency’s media personnel have been furloughed. Still, border patrol agents who review H-2A visas at the border are considered essential and are still working. U.S. embassies and consulates in Mexico also remain fully open.

Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig

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Esther Honig

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