South Africans looking to take advantage of work opportunities on US farms need to have a strong work ethic and, where applicable, the necessary skills to reliably undertake what farmers there expected of them.
This was especially important given that US farmers were now increasingly able to employ skilled and unskilled farmworkers from regions such as Eastern Europe.
This was according to Danie Liebenberg Sr, founder of the South African-headquartered Farm Recruit USA, which sourced South Africans to work on farms in a number of US states.
Liebenberg was talking to Farmer’s Weekly following the late January 2021 news that the US government, under the new administration of President Joe Biden, had lifted a ban on people travelling from South Africa and certain other countries to work on US farms.
Biden’s administration lifted the ban following requests from the likes of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) that, in its letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske, said that South Africans were considered valuable essential workers on US farms.
“Many […] South African H-2A [visa] workers have a unique skillset, and American farmers are counting on their timely arrival as they make plans for their upcoming growing seasons. While protecting our nation from new strains of COVID-19 is critically important, it is in our national interest to ensure production of food, fuel, and fibre,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the AFBF.
The Biden administration’s subsequent lifting of the travel ban for farmworkers from South Africa was welcomed by Duvall, who said that his organisation appreciated the swift action.
A statement by the US State Department said that South Africans who successfully applied for a H-2A visa to undertake temporary or seasonal work in the US would be permitted to enter that country.
Such a visa could be applied for if a South African could provide labour and skills for seafood processing and fish cutting. Other skills needed included those of salmon roe technicians, farm equipment mechanics, and agriculture equipment operators.
Liebenberg said that US farmers were increasingly seeking South Africans who already had experience and appropriate skills in operating larger and higher-tech machines and implements. These more popular recruits were usually in their mid-20s, although older applicants were also considered.
“There are also jobs for manual labourers, such as for planting and picking, in the US, but these applicants must understand that these require a lot of physical labour and long hours. The applicants must be mentally and physically prepared. We recruiters have our reputations to protect and we don’t want to disappoint our clients in the US by sending workers who don’t meet what’s expected of them,” he said.