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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

COVID-19 halts visa applications, farmers say they rely on immigrant help

Farmers fear a labor shortage will leave supermarkets bare.

DONAHUE, Iowa — The U-S State Department is suspending routine visa services at all U.S embassies and consulates because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the decision was made, America is halting the visa application process.

One consequence of this decision is that immigrant workers are no longer allowed to enter the U.S.

John Maxwell, a dairy farmer, said, "A lot of farmers are going to be in a bad way."

The U.S. embassy made the announcement Friday, March 20 that it's halting all non-emergency visa appointments because of COVID-19.

Immigration lawyer Robert Perkins said, "They are curtailing any interview unless it is critical."

Farmers say unlike other workplaces, they can't work remotely and they need help now. Otherwise, fresh produce at the supermarket could cease to exist.

"It could turn into a shortage of some things we have gotten used to seeing on our shelves," Maxwell said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation says farmers are in limbo and uncertainty is heightening concerns.

"We are seeing fewer H2A visas being processed and less immigrants being able to get onto American farms. Farmers are very concerned that they may not have their full workforce."

Maxwell hires immigrant workers annually and says he relies on their help as farm workers are already hard to find. Replacing them could be impossible.

In 2019, the Department of Labor certified more than a quarter million visa requests from American farms.