HyLife workers on H-2B visas told they must leave by June 3

“It’s a hit to our region from a community standpoint.”

The HyLife Foods pork processing facility is shown April 13, 2023 in Windom.
The HyLife Foods pork processing facility is shown April 13, 2023 in Windom.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

WINDOM — None of the potential buyers for HyLife Foods Windom meets the requirements to continue employing the workers on H-2B visas, the company announced to its employees Thursday.

“As a result, we are arranging transportation to your home country for those that have not yet secured employment with another company in accordance with immigration requirements,” the memo stated.

The H-2B program allows employers who meet its requirements to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

About 490 of HyLife Foods Windom employees are in the U.S. on H-2B visas, and in its memo, HyLife stated those workers needed to complete transportation forms by Friday, May 26, “for departure no later than Saturday, June 3rd.”

All HyLife Windom employees have been living in uncertainty since April 11 , when the notification was made that the hog processing plant would close in June if a buyer for the facility wasn’t found, leaving its employees jobless. HyLife Foods Windom filed for bankruptcy in Delaware later that month.


An auction of the processing plant was set to occur Friday, May 26, according to HyLife’s memo, but the results of the auction will not be released until June 2.

Employees on H-2B visas were given a list of eligible employers in May, and were encouraged to explore their options, said Erin Schutte Wadzinski of Kivu Immigration Law in Worthington, which is assisting some of the workers. Given the time of year, however, many employers with the credentials to employ H-2B workers don’t have spots available for them.

And none of those employers are local, Schutte Wadzinski said.

One employer in particular interviewed a number of HyLife workers earlier this week and hired about 100 of those on H-2B visas, but that employer is headquartered in Pennsylvania, and its meatpacking plant is in Michigan, so all of those workers will need to move.

“It looks like our region is losing about 500 temporary workers” because none of the local employers have the qualifications to employ them," Schutte Wadzinksi said. “It’s a hit to our region from a community standpoint.”

It’s also a hit to the workers. While their visa has always been temporary, many have lived in Windom and surrounding communities for almost three years, developing roots and considering southwest Minnesota their home, she explained.

While many workers are finding employment elsewhere in the United States, others are applying for more permanent status through a lawful permanent resident or a lawful citizen family member, Schutte Wadzinski said. However, only those with a qualifying family member can do that.

Others, who are genuinely fearful for their lives if they are required to return to their home countries, are considering requesting asylum in the United States, and workers younger than 21 are exploring the option of seeking special immigrant juvenile status.


About 200 employees have visited Kivu to learn about their options, Schutte Wadzinski said.

“There are entire families on H-2Bs,” she said. “Many of the workers are … young, single individuals, but that’s not everyone. There’s families and multi-generational households who hold H-2Bs, or are personally impacted by this.”

“We are learning lessons about where there are breaks in the immigration system,” Schutte Wadzinski said.

Local employers are also learning, as some that would have gladly hired HyLife workers due to a labor shortage have been caught flat-footed, unable to do so because they lack the proper certification. The HyLife situation has prompted some regional employers to begin investigating the process for hiring international talent using H-2Bs, but it will likely take at least six months to complete the entire process, Schutte Wadzinski said.

She encouraged people to check on their neighbors, and not to wait until a crisis to do so.

“This situation is impacting a lot of different people in a lot of different ways,” she said.

Messages to HyLife Foods Windom and HyLife Foods were not returned by publication deadline.

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Phone: (507) 376-7319
What To Read Next
Get Local