Flu not causing U.S., Canadian farm labor shortage

Mon Apr 27, 2009 7:18pm EDT
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By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX (Reuters) - U.S. and Canadian authorities have imposed no travel restrictions on thousands of temporary Mexican migrant workers in response to the swine flu outbreak, although some Canadian farmers are concerned about possible labor shortages.

Governments around the world rushed to reduce the impact of a possible flu pandemic Monday, as a virus that has killed up to 149 people in Mexico and spread to the United States and Canada also reached Europe.

Officials said the U.S. border with Mexico was open as normal and no travel restrictions had been imposed even though a public health emergency had been declared. The United States issued 64,404 temporary farm worker visas in the 2008 fiscal year, according to State Department data.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said on its website it was postponing visa application appointments set for Monday to Wednesday and was limiting its services to U.S. citizens to passport applications and help in emergencies, although it was not immediately clear if that might affect temporary work visa applications.

In Canada, where some 14,000 Mexicans labor on fruit and vegetable farms, authorities said no restrictions were currently imposed on travel, although temporary workers were being screened carefully before departure from Mexico.

"We are monitoring the situation closely, and we're working closely with our federal partners to gather information and manage the impact on Canada of the evolving health situation in Mexico and determine what action is required," said Alykhan Velshi, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

The Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Service (FARMS), which manages around 15,500 foreign farm workers in Ontario, including up to 9,000 from Mexico, warned any potential interruption to the ongoing hiring process could prove "very critical" for farmers in the province.

"Some of those farmers don't have any workers at all," said FARMS president Ken Forth.   Continued...

<p>Canadian wheat grows in a field near Teulon, Manitiba, July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>