Apple harvest workers stuck in border limbo

That a federal government computer problem is causing major headaches probably won’t surprise you, but this time it has nothing to do with Obamacare. Instead, problems with a State Department system for processing immigration visas could leave some Washington apple growers without enough pickers to harvest their 2014 crop.

The problem has meant big delays processing the H2A visas that allow workers to enter the U.S. to help with harvest. Some of those workers are now stuck in limbo at the border. Because of the glitch, they’re not working and they’re racking up needless expenses. Meanwhile, farmers are paying for buses that are only partly full to deliver workers here while wondering if their other scheduled workers will have their visas processed in time.

The computer problems are hurting workers and farmers who are following the rules. Washington farmers rely on legal guest workers to help with important, time-sensitive harvest work. The number of workers stuck in limbo is high enough to make a negative impact at a critical time. For many of those workers, a brief fruit harvest job is an opportunity to earn far more than they can back home.

While Congress wrangles mostly over illegal immigration, this unfortunate situation is just one more example highlighting the need for reform in our legal immigration system as well.

Much of the attention on the legal immigration front in recent years has been on the H1B visas tech companies want so they can bring in more talent from abroad. The H2A program has been less visible, but it too needs reforms.

Even before the current processing delays, it has been clear that the current H2A program is problematic. Farmers looking to harvest the fruit crops – which are economically important to our state – need an H2A program that is reliable, predictable, and that allows for adequate numbers of harvesters.

That hasn’t been the case. While the prospects are unfortunately high that Congress will continue its decades-long streak of accomplishing next-to-nothing on immigration reform, we need leaders who will step up to improve this relatively small program that is vital to the Northwest. In the short term, the State Department needs to quickly resolve its issues so we can get Washington’s most famous crop off the trees.
-Rob McKenna


Washington farm, orchard laborers stuck at border

By Jim Camden
The Spokesman-Review

Central Washington orchards, which have battled smoke and flames from July’s wildfires, may have a new problem to contend with in August as apple harvest starts.

Legal workers from Mexico who are needed to pick apples and pears might be blocked or delayed at the border because of problems with the State Department’s computerized visa system.

More than a dozen workers destined for Washington farms and orchards are currently stuck on the other side of the border. A process that normally takes two days currently can take two weeks, a state department spokeswoman said.

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.