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Northwest Farmers Worried About Visa Backup For Legal Migrant Workers

Anna King
This file photo shows workers at a berry farm outside of Eltopia, Washington.

A breakdown in a U.S. State Department computer system that processes foreign worker visas has sowed major worries at some Northwest orchards.

Those farmers are concerned about getting enough pickers for late summer and fall crops.

The problem started with a glitch in a database the State Department uses to issue immigration visas. This includes entry permits for legal migrant farm workers. The State Department says the glitch is being fixed.

"We anticipate it will take weeks to resume full visa processing capacity," wrote press officer Laura Seal in an email. In the meantime, there is a growing backlog at U.S. consulates in Mexico.

“Employers are concerned about getting workers here for the apple crop,” Washington Farm Labor Association director Dan Fazio said. “Beyond that, the farmers are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it the right way. So the farmers are anxious, frustrated and mad.”

Fortunately, Fazio said the majority of temporary foreign guest workers recruited to work on Northwest farms this year have already arrived. But he estimated up to 2,000 more with contracts to work in Washington state still need to cross.

Fazio’s association has spent recent days calling and writing the congressional delegation and the State Department, pleading for farmhands to receive immigration priority.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

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