And none too soon! The first day back at work for the 27 guys who made it through the H2A visa process was April 12. Vicente was a little late but better late than never!
And such drama this year - it's always an ordeal, but this year was especially precarious. The thing begins with the farm getting approval for bringing in H2A visa workers. The H2A visa is a special agricultural worker visa, and we have to prove that we aren't displacing U.S. workers. We place local help wanted ads and wait to see if qualified workers apply. Then we have our housing inspected (we own two houses in Viroqua town and one here in the valley) - the inspector approved us for 41 beds, but we only asked for 30 visas. (41 seems a bit crowded for me - these are grown men who need some breathing room, right?) Once we get approval for the generic visas, we submit the names of the workers we'd like to invite/sponsor this year. (We've had guys working here for 8-10 years who have become nearly indispensable so we truly hope they come back - they are good friends to me as well)
We work with a company in Texas that does much of the bureaucratic paper work and has a liaison in Mexico who helps the guys once they get to the U.S. consulate in Mexico. They informed us that our interview date was April 21. So not good. We are having such an early, warm spring! Richard was quite upset - would we be able to bring in the overwintered parsnips & spinach? Harvest ramps? Plant & plant & plant? What would we do until April 26 without the bulk of the experienced field/harvest crew?
So our company in Texas petitioned for an emergency appointment. We weren't sure if we'd be able to get all the guys an earlier appointment so we prioritized our list of names. We also didn't want the newbies to have to go through the process on their own, so it would be preferable if they had someone who knew the ropes help them along. (Last year we had 22 visa workers, so a couple new guys this year).
They usually leave home and travel to the consulate in Monterrey, MX for the interview. If they pass the interview and are granted visas, they need to be prepared to travel right to the farm. They need to pay for the visa processing, plus pay transportation costs to the farm (they are reimbursed when they arrive, but they have to have the pesos and/or dollars in hand until then).
This year, they'd have to travel to Monterrey to meet with the liaison and then travel to the consulate that could fit us in for the emergency interview appointments. Thankfully (sort of), we got an appointment in Nuevo Laredo - north of Monterrey, on the Texas border. (We could have had to send them way back southwest across the country to the consulate in Guadalajara, so going north seemed easier.)
On Monday, April 5 we called our guys in Mexico (we have a couple leaders who spread the word to the rest of the crew for us) and told them that instead of an April 21 appointment, we got one for everybody on April 8 - that very Thursday, in Nuevo Laredo. Can you be ready? Yes, of course! I pooh-poohed Vicente's concerns about how dangerous Nuevo Laredo is - people getting killed on the streets and robbed of their very homes. He told me that not only did he hear of some visa seekers not only being rejected, but also getting murdered soon after. I thought maybe he was being dramatic. I've become complacent in my time here in the quiet and peace of Harmony Valley.
So we were all thinking good thoughts for our Mexican friends that Thursday. Ends up one of the 30 got cold feet and didn't go to the interview, two were outright rejected, 26 approved and Vicente was on hold. The 26 started their journey north on Friday, while Vicente waited. He worked for us last year, but was rejected the year before after having worked here for several years previously. The interviews serve the purpose of rejecting as many as possible for just about any reason that can be found. Vicente's shadow was a ticket he got in Arkansas in 1997! We got as much info from him as we could and I was lucky enough to find the town, reach the city clerk, and get a copy of the resolved ticket faxed to me (thank you internet & thank you Jill in Searcy AR!). I called the consulate & faxed them the info as well as emailing it to the liaison in MX so Vicente could have a copy if need be. We told him not to go home - he might be able to have another interview on Monday.
Vicente called on Monday, quite disheartened. He said "Maybe this year is not my year." While watching the news that weekend, he had seen the television reports of the violence at the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo - the place was closed until they felt they could reopen safely. He thought maybe the office wouldn't re-open for a week or more! Ends up that on that Friday, after our guys had hired the bus to take them north, someone had thrown a live grenade over the fence of the U.S. consulate. This came on the heels of other violence in March, when several people had been killed. We asked Vicente to not go home -wait & see.
Luckily, Vicente waited and the office re-opened on Tuesday. He was issued a visa, got on a bus & after a long detour through the southeast U.S. (Atlanta, South Carolina & finally Lexington KY), Vicente, our rain man/irrigation guy extraordinaire, made it to La Crosse on Friday evening. I thought he was in pretty good spirits considering his four days on a stinky old bus! Hopefully that ticket from 1997 will follow him no further and I won't doubt his stories of the difficulties and dangers on the streets in Mexico.