The number of coronavirus cases worldwide tops 764,866 as of today. Farmworkers are one of the most vulnerable communities to coronavirus in our country. Most of migrant farmworkers live in rural communities. Although rural communities are more isolated (that’s a good thing for once in our lives), many migrant farmworkers live in crowded dorms with no space to quarantine the sick labors.
Low population density in agricultural areas at least buy some time for health workers to develop contingency healthcare plans and being ahead of this stressful situation. Educating workers about Covid-19 is necessary because they may be at higher risks to the disease compared to the general public. Because of the nature of their work, they are exposed to more hazards including dust and chemicals linked to lung diseases. In addition, many of them have pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes. Those workers who have been in agriculture for a longer time and exposed to pesticides are more vulnerable to coronavirus due to effect of pesticides on their respiratory system.
Their situation is more complicated when we know that only 47 percent of farmworkers have health coverage, compared to 91.5% of the general population. In addition, many of them have no paid sick leave to be able to see a doctor or take time off in the case of illness. Plus, our rural hospitals may not be equipped as much as urban health centers to handle a local Covid-19 outbreak. Many of them may not have any ventilators or intensive care unit. On the other hand, we will face labor and food supply shortage if farmworkers being affected by virus. The agriculture industry is already bracing for a labor shortage. U.S. farms are highly reliant on for temporary foreign labor.
The good news is, U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working diligently with DOL, DHS, and State to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce caused by COVID-19. Today the State Department took additional steps to increase processing of H-2 visa holders through consulates around the world. Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview. Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no potential ineligibility.