08.26.10

Looming Disaster Averted In Vermont Apple Harvest

. . . Leahy Untangles Snags In Visa Process For Seasonal Workers

A looming disaster threatened by the combination of early-maturing apples and a hitch with visas for the guest workers to pick them has been averted, according to Senator Patrick Leahy and Vermont apple growers.

With apple crops ripening 10 days to 14 days early this year, at least 19 orchards in Vermont and New York, and many more throughout the Northeast, had encountered an extra form-filing step in the annual process of recruiting temporary workers from Jamaica.  The added step – Request For Evidence (RFE) process requirements – comes in the aftermath of an 18-month investigation of the Jamaican Central Labour Organization.

The process of approving visas for seasonal workers, under the longstanding H-2A guest worker program, is handled by two federal agencies: the U.S. Department of Labor, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a unit of the Department of Homeland Security.

Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction over USCIS, and he also is the most senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.  When Vermont growers told him about the problem, he and his staff swung into action.  Through Leahy’s efforts – including a personal call to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas – USCIS now is expediting the process for all apple growers with pending H-2A petitions for workers from Jamaica to have their visa applications settled.  Leahy’s staff is also helping to expedite submissions to USCIS for agency review of growers’ RFE forms.

“An entire season’s work was at risk, and crops don’t wait for paperwork,” said Leahy.  “I’m glad we found a commonsense solution for a happy ending after this close call.”

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