“Oh my goodness! This is phenomenal news,” exclaimed Judy Stuart, founder of the Future Farmers Foundation following the news that the Bidden-Harris administration will now give preferential access to South African farmworkers.
After months of worry about the impact of global travel restrictions on her foundation, Stuart was delighted to learn from Food For Mzansi that H-2A and H-2B visa holders could now enter the United States without fuss.
Mzansi’s agricultural workforce are in hot demand in the US, particularly those skilled in operating equipment and machinery.
The H-2A and H-2B non-immigrant certification allows qualifying farmworkers to live and work in the US for up to 10 months.
“I’m smiling,” said Stuart.
“It means absolutely everything to us that we can start moving interns into the country again. We have the capacity to send about 50 people this year. This is life-changing for these youngsters and the farmers abroad love them.”
Last year, Future Farmers could only send five Mzansi farmworkers to the US. This was a direct result of former president Donald Trump’s immigration ban aimed at protecting American jobs during Covid-19.
Trump earlier said, “I have determined that the entry, through December 31, 2020, of certain aliens as immigrants and non-immigrants would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
A new dawn for SA?
In a dramatic U-turn, newly elected President Joe Biden acknowledged that the US economy is dependent on migrant workers in sectors where they have a critical shortage of skills.
Independent political analyst Theo Venter applauded this decision by the Biden administration.
This, he told Food For Mzansi, was exactly the kind of predictions he and others were making with Trump’s historic exit from the White House. South Africa hardly featured on Trump’s political radar.
“Now, we are definitely there,” he said, commenting about the road ahead following the great news for farmworkers.
“We have the Agoa agreement with the US, and they know (exactly) what roles we are playing, and what we are doing. We play a very significant role in Southern Africa.”
Across the continent, governments and agriculturists are hopeful that the Biden administration will extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act for a further 15 years when it ends in 2025. Agoa gives qualifying sub-Saharan nations tax-free access to the US market for 1 800 products.
Venter said, “The Biden-administration would be far more sympathetic to emerging economies and economies in difficulties that are, broadly speaking, in a good relationship with America.”
“It means absolutely everything to us that we can start moving interns into the country again.”
Venter predicts that South Africa would likely benefit from Biden’s leadership in other ways too, whether it will be “through mechanisation or seeds”.
“There’s an extended relationship between us and them, and I think it couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said.
“We are looking at a bumper season in 2021, apart from all the negatives brought on by Covid-19. We are looking at record maize (white and yellow), records for soy and sunflower, and the wine harvest is also extremely promising, if there is enough capacity.”
The US state department said South African farmworkers seeking work in the US under the H-2A and H-2B programmes may be considered for a “national interest exception” to travel.
However, only workers in the agriculture and food supply chains would qualify, including seafood processors, fish cutters, salmon roe technicians, farm equipment mechanics, and agriculture equipment operators.
What do SA farmworkers earn in the US?
Working 12 or more hours a day, six days a week, South African farmworkers can gross more than $4,000 a month in the US, reported Great Falls Tribune. After mandatory deductions for U.S. federal income tax, a frugal worker could bring home in 10 months what it would have taken them five years to earn in South Africa.