Georgia survey found that COVID-19 disrupted H-2A visa processing, leading to farm income decline

The importance of the H-2A guest farmworker visa program in supplying the needed foreign farm labor inputs has grown in recent years. In 2019, it supplied nearly 28% of the farming sector’s total hired workers –a significant jump from 10 years ago when it was 7%. The federal government released regulations that ensured that H-2A workers’ availability would not be hampered when COVID-19 began. Indeed, H-2A foreign labor certification and visa petition approvals remained high by historical standards. However, port entry and border crossing data indicated an overall decline of about 96%, especially in April 2020 when most farms started to require the services of farm workers. University of Georgia researchers conducted a survey that found workers were about four to five weeks late in their arrival. Given these operating constraints, farm businesses responding to the survey indicated various coping strategies –greater reliance on family members, reducing off-farm employment time, resigning from off-farm jobs, and modifying production methods in favor of less labor-intensive alternatives. The domestic labor alternative was only explored in 30%of the cases and resulted in a 16%reduction in incomes, perhaps due to relative lower worker productivities in comparison to their foreign (H-2A) counterparts.