US eases curbs on seasonal labor visas

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WASHINGTON (The Wall Street Journal) — The State Department is further easing requirements on seasonal foreign worker visas, following agriculture industry warnings that a bottleneck created by coronavirus-related curbs could prompt a farm-labor shortage at the peak of spring harvest.

Under the latest rules, which the State Department issued Thursday, most applicants will no longer need an in-person interview to get visas for farm or other seasonal work, such as landscaping, fishing or working at resorts. That requirement had slowed the number of workers entering the U.S. The State Department paused most visa processing in embassies and consulates abroad due to the pandemic.

Under a different set of rules issued last week, only returning workers — nearly all of whom come from Mexico — were allowed to skip the interview.

Though the new rules apply to all seasonal workers, most of those entering the country at the moment are coming to plant and harvest crops.

U.S. farmers rely heavily on the seasonal guest-worker visas, known as H-2A, which can legally account for as many as one in 10 of a farm’s workers.

The industry pressed the Trump administration to ease requirements.

“American farmers are dependent on guest workers from the H-2A program to harvest our crops, and American consumers are dependent on the food from these harvests for continued sustenance during the present crisis,” said Dave Puglia, president of Western Growers.

The easing of H-2A curbs has angered groups advocating tighter restrictions on immigration — some of President Trump’s staunchest allies — who say the government shouldn’t be making it easy for employers to hire foreign labor when so many Americans are losing their jobs.

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