Farmworker Advocates Seek Protections Against COVID-19 for Agricultural Guestworkers

The Trump Administration granted the demand of agricultural employers to have US consulates in Mexico process H-2A agricultural guestworker visas during the COVID-19 pandemic despite halting most other visa processes. 

But we have not seen evidence that the Administration is requiring H-2A program employers to provide farmworkers – neither the foreign citizens nor the U.S. workers they recruit and hire — with the information, protections or services they need against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The attached letter from 37 national, regional and local organizations serving farmworkers requests specific actions by the Trump Administration regarding its responsibilities to ensure the safety and health of farmworkers, both U.S. workers and foreign workers, who are recruited, hired, transported, housed and employed by employers participating in the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.  Last year, about 250,000 H-2A guestworkers (mostly from Mexico) were hired, about 10% of the U.S. farm workforce.

The foreign workers and U.S. workers who migrate to jobs on farms participating in the H-2A program often travel long distances in crowded commercial buses and other vehicles.  They typically reside in barracks-style housing, crowded together with limited sanitary facilities.  They often work in groups in the fields, touching equipment and packaging as well as crops, with limited access to handwashing facilities or sanitizer.  They depend on their employers for access to stores and health care, which is often limited in rural areas.

The CDC recommendations regarding physical distancing and sanitation need to be followed.  Workers need accurate, timely information in languages they understand and the resources to follow them.  If they become ill, workers need appropriate medical testing and care as well as economic support. 

The letter, coordinated and co-written by Farmworker Justice, demands prompt responses from the Departments of Labor,  State and Homeland Security in their administrative roles under the H-2A program. 

The Administration recognized farmworkers as “essential” workers in a “critical infrastructure sector” and took extraordinary steps to continue the H-2A program’s hiring of foreign workers.  These workers and their U.S. counterparts must be treated with respect and given the tools and resources needed in this pandemic.

This important effort is only one of many that our staff and partners are pursuing to help farmworkers and their organizations.  There is much more to do. Your support makes our work possible. 

Best wishes to all of you.

Bruce Goldstein


Farmworker Justice