On March 18, the US State Department temporarily suspended applications for routine visas at embassies and consulates worldwide to prevent further spread of the coronavirus in the American territory, where it has been rapidly spreading. The restriction of visa services is preventing temporary agricultural workers from Central and South America from accessing the country, where the harvest of many products, such as watermelon in the state of Florida, is imminent.
Faced with the threat that the food supply could be adversely affected, agricultural sector companies, which had 243,000 H-2A workers to harvest in 2018, immediately pressured the government to grant exemptions to temporary agricultural workers.
On Wednesday, State Department officials announced that they had waived in-person interview requirements for many H-2A visa applicants. In addition, a spokesman for the US consulate in Monterrey said Sunday that limited staff continued to process H-2A visas "due to the high priority of maintaining the United States' food supply chain."
Florida produced almost 354,000 tons of watermelon last year, which accounts for 22% of the United States' consumption, according to the local government. In 2018, the state hired 30,462 H-2A visa workers and was second only to Georgia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Without workers, growers in Florida, California, and the entire United States could be left with uncollected crops in the field at the start of harvest.
In Florida, blueberries, melons, carrots, cucumbers, mangoes, peaches, and watermelons are about to be harvested in April and May; while California gets ready to collect grapes, raspberries, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, peaches, plums, nectarines, melons, and watermelons.