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Tag: United States

US Opens Borders for South African Workers – These are the skills they’re looking for

The US State Department said that it will make exceptions to its recent travel ban on high-risk Covid countries like South Africa, for workers who meet critical skill requirements for the country’s agriculture sector.

The exemption will be made specifically for those taking part in the H-2 visa program, which the department said is essential to the US economy and food security. The H-2 visas permit US employers to hire foreign workers to come to the United States temporarily and perform agricultural or non-agricultural services due to an expected shortage of domestic labour.

“Therefore, we intend to continue processing H-2 applications for individuals who provide temporary labour or services essential to the United States food supply chain, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions,” it said.

H-2A and H-2B applicants who fall under the 25 January 2021 Presidential Proclamation – ie, the Covid-19 travel ban, in which South Africa was specifically named – who are necessary to ensure food supply chains, will be considered for excemption.

The department specifically mentioned needing farm workers with skills such as:

  • Seafood processors;
  • Fish cutters;
  • Salmon roe technicians;
  • Farm equipment mechanics;
  • Farm labourers;
  • and others.

The Department said that the applicants applying for a visa will be considered for an exception at the time of interview. While a number of temporary jobs are available through the visa program, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said that it specifically sent a letter to Secretary of State and Homeland Security requesting an exemption for South African farm labour.

“We appreciate the swift action by the State Department to address a critical need for American agriculture,” said AFBF president Zippy Duvall.

“Farmworkers 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.”

 

US president Joe Biden introduced new travel restrictions for the United States last week, including a ban on travel to and from South Africa due to the new coronavirus strain.  The ban prevents most non-US citizens from entry if they have recently been in South Africa.  Biden also reimposed an entry ban on nearly all non-US travellers who have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, in an interview.

Schuchat added the agency was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”

The variant – currently termed the ‘501.V2 Variant’ – was identified by genomics scientists in South Africa and formally announced by government in late December.  The variant was the cause of the second wave and spreads faster than the original virus.

Daily Coronavirus Update and Statistics

Europe is experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 forcing many European countries to go into lockdown again. Scientists in South Africa called on South Africans to learn from the mistakes made by other countries and continue to observe regulations pertaining to social distancing and hygiene. “South Africans cannot become complacent and lazy. If that happens, we will face another wave of the Coronavirus which could see the country going into lockdown again. Especially with the festive season approacing, South Africans have to adhere to established protocol,” said one scientist.

It is close to a year since the coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China. Since the outbreak scientists across the globe have pleaded with people to steer clear of social gatherings, to work from home, and to wear a mask when they do venture outside. South Africans see the festive season as an opportunity for year-end functions, family braai’s, and packed beaches.

The chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, Professor Abdool Karim, however said that now was not the time to forget that we were in the grip of a global pandemic. “People are tired, they’re frustrated, they’re irritated and they just want it to end. We control our risks and we control our country’s risk. If we are just a bit more careful… we just need to hang in there.”

Professor Shabir Madhi of Wits Vaccinology said that South Africa was already experiencing a resurgence in cases. “When you go around South Africa right now, people have become more complacent in terms of the use of the face maks, in terms of the physical distancing, in terms of avoiding overcrowded places. Complacency has crept in.” It is this complacency and super spreader events that have been the key drivers in the second wave gripping Europe and the United States.

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