The U.S. State Department clarified its ban on noncitizens entering the United States from South Africa. A Biden administration proclamation suspended travel from several countries due to COVID-19 concerns. The State Department clarified that agriculture workers entering the U.S. qualify for national interest exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick sent a letter to all six members of the Mississippi Congressional Delegation urging them to support the exemption for South African farm labor.

“On behalf of our members, many of whom depend on H-2A labor in producing commodities, we write to express deep concern for President Biden’s January 25th Presidential Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Non-Immigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease,” McCormick wrote in his letter.This proclamation proposes to limit or prohibit travel from certain countries, including some providing a significant number of H-2A workers, in particular South Africa. This change will impact approximately 800 workers from South Africa entering the U.S. just to work in Mississippi. We ask for your immediate help in ensuring these travel restrictions do not prohibit travel by H-2A workers who represent essential labor for an essential industry. If all travel, including H-2A workers, is prohibited from these countries, there will be severe consequences in food production due to labor shortages as there are no viable alternatives available for most employers on such short notice.”

In addition, American Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske earlier this week requesting an exemption for South African farm labor.

“We appreciate the swift action by the State Department to address a critical need for American agriculture,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Farm workers from South Africa bring valuable and unique skills to the farms on which they are employed. America’s farmers rely on the H-2A program to provide a robust workforce and we are committed to ensuring their safety while continuing to provide healthy, affordable food for families across the country.”

President Biden’s proclamation allows for noncitizens to be exempt from the ban if their arrival is in the national interest. Food and agriculture workers have been deemed essential during the pandemic.

Read the travel exception here.

Read the MFBF letter here.

Read the AFBF letter here.

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