Protect H2A Visa Holders in VT

The following is a letter that we plan to send to officials in the Vermont Department of Health and Department of Agriculture. Please read the letter and sign your name.

Dear Vermont Commissioner Levine and Secretary Tebbetts,

As students at Middlebury College, we are impressed and grateful with the caution you have taken to integrate university students safely into the state of Vermont this past fall. The communication between the state of Vermont and the College has been cogent, detailed, and helpful, which enabled the College to set up proper testing protocols, dining plans, and everything in between. Thanks to the great job you have been doing, we had the privilege of experiencing a semi-normal semester in what many of us see as a second home.

However, we were saddened to learn that similar precautions were not taken to protect Vermont’s agricultural workers. This fact became particularly clear when 27 H2A visa holders from Jamaica contracted COVID-19 at Champlain Orchards in October. It appears that they had not received the same regularly scheduled testing that was in place at Middlebury College. Furthermore, these workers did not have the adequate provision of resources or housing to complete a legitimate two-week quarantine upon arrival. While Middlebury College students had access to delivered meals and regulated dining hall protocols to protect themselves and their community while in quarantine, the agricultural workers had access to no such program. Finally, while students had access to one-to-two person bedrooms during their quarantine, enabling them to self-isolate upon arriving, experiencing symptoms, or waiting for test results, the H2A visa holders were housed all together without privacy, heightening the risk of spread and preventing a valid quarantine upon the discovery of COVID cases.

H2A visa workers, like students, are known populations that come in and out of Vermont at certain times of the year, and they should thus be treated according to similar policies and protocols. Moreover, the state’s agricultural and tourist economies are indebted to H2A visa labor. Thus, we are calling upon you to take the following measures, out of care for the laborers who enable Vermont’s signature agriculture and for our Vermont community at large:

Testing protocols: Establish a program for the provision of COVID tests for H2A visa workers upon arrival, tests after a 7-day post-arrival quarantine, and periodic testing throughout their time in Vermont.
Access to food and necessities: Create a subsidized program to deliver food and other necessary items during quarantines, so that H2A workers can remain in proper quarantine without endangering themselves or the Addison County community.
Pay: Provide subsidized income during H2A workers’ post-arrival quarantine period, and during any additional quarantine, to prevent coerced labor while health risks remain elevated.
Housing: Improve housing so that worker quarters allow for social distancing and isolation.

These measures are not only in the interest of Vermont public health, but also a necessary step towards a socially just future in which Vermont’s most marginalized populations have access to ample protection and resources.

Thank you for your work, time, and consideration.
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