Updated: 6:11 p.m.
As the HyLife pork processing plant in Windom, Minn. is being auctioned off, about half of the plant’s 1,000 workers are scrambling to find new jobs.
HyLife sent employees an email Thursday afternoon announcing none of the prospective bidders have the necessary immigration approvals or certification to retain the plant’s H-2B employees.
The company stated it is arranging transportation back to their home countries, for those who haven’t been able to secure employment with another company. This is in accordance with immigration requirements.
The email also explained that HyLife is requiring H2-B workers “to fill out the return transportation form by the end of the day on Friday for departure no later than June 3.” This covers about 450 workers from Mexico and around 40 from the Philippines.
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HyLife confirmed the details in a statement sent to MPR News.
“We understand this situation is extremely difficult for our hard-working and dedicated employees,” the statement reads. “We are grateful and express genuine appreciation for the contributions of our H-2B employees. We are committed to ensuring their upcoming transition is as smooth as possible.”
HyLife said it continues to move forward with its U.S. employees. The result of the sale will be announced June 2. The company is currently in its second window to announce layoffs.
‘Uprooting their lives’
Attorney Erin Schutte Wadzinski of Kivu Immigration Law in Worthington has been working with affected H-2B employees. She said that many of them established lives while working in Windom.
However she says Thursday’s announcement changed those lives.
“Now these employees know that they are not going to have the proper immigration status to continue working in the city of Windom,” Wadzinski said. “That means cutting leases short, that means pulling children out of school. That means completely uprooting everything that they have because they’re no longer going to be able to lawfully work under their current immigration status here in the United States.”
Wadzinski said some workers are already packing and preparing to return to their home countries. Others are “scrambling” to submit applications to change their immigration status to a visitor visa to buy themselves more time to wrap things up in the United States.
Some are also applying for jobs with employers who do have the certifications and credentials to hire individuals on new H-2B visas or applying for family-based or humanitarian-based immigration options based on their own unique situation.
Federal and city officials try to help
There are concerns for families with U.S. born children who currently don’t have passports and traveling documents, facing possible separation. Elected officials are working with affected families and have been communicating with local officials about what their offices can do to support them.
“I know the challenges of our immigration system have created a lot of uncertainty and concerns for HyLife workers and their families,” U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said in a statement. “My staff has been meeting and is in close touch with these workers to offer our assistance in the visa application process and we will continue to stand ready to help in any way that we can.”
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also released a statement to MPR News.
“The sale of this plant is causing major upheaval in Windom, and I have spoken with Mayor Dominic Jones to offer help. Our office has given continued support to workers and their families, which includes requested help with visas. I'll continue to support the Windom community through this challenging time.”