The decision by the U.S. Department of State to suspend visa processing in Mexico because of COVID-19 threatens to worsen the labor shortage in the pork industry and across U.S. agriculture, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said in a release on Wednesday.
In response to the global pandemic COVID-19, and in line with the Mexican government’s call to increase social distancing, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and all U.S. consulates in Mexico will suspend routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services starting March 18 until further notice, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico said in a statement.
NPPC renewed its call for government help to prevent a severe labor shortage from becoming a crisis.
“Mexico is a very important source of labor for U.S. hog farmers and packing plants,” NPPC said in a release.
A.V. Roth, NPPC president, emphasized that U.S. pig farms and pork plants are not in crisis today. But he’s very concerned about the recent announcement regarding consulates in Mexico and the impact this could have on operations in the pork industry.
“Hog farmers and others in the pork industry are doing their part to ensure American kitchens are well-stocked,” said Roth, a pork producer from Wauzeka, Wisc., in the release.
The pork industry operates year-round and uses the H-2A visa program for specialized work, but NPPC pointed out that the industry cannot use the program for most labor needs because of its seasonal limitation. Hog farmers are major users of the TN visa program, which taps professional workers from Mexico.
In addition to workforce concerns, NPPC reiterated that U.S. pork producers need additional support, including clarity from the U.S. Department of Transportation that farms are part of the critical domestic infrastructure needed to produce the food that feeds America and the world.
“This clear designation ensures the uninterrupted supply of commercial feed and other production inputs to farms, as well as the transport of livestock from farm to market,” NPPC said. “Hog farmers also have concerns about the potential shortage of standard supplies such as boot covers, coveralls and disinfectants needed to maintain high standards of biosecurity, animal care and food safety.”
NPPC also asks for provisions in the pending congressional relief package to provide financial support for childcare for farm and plant workers.
"U.S. hog farmers are committed to maintaining the continuity of the food supply and we stand with the administration in its response to the COVID-19 challenge,” Roth said in the release. “The pork supply chain is operating, but now is the time to get ahead of looming challenges and ensure federal and state policies support farmers and the critical role they play in meeting the nutritional needs of the nation."
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