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Groundskeeper has smooth trip from South Africa...

When Pieter Swanepoel left Johannesburg, South Africa on an 11-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, everything was normal. By the time he left Frankfurt on a 10-hour flight to Denver, the world had changed.

4/14/20 (Tue)

When Pieter Swanepoel left Johannesburg, South Africa on an 11-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, everything was normal. By the time he left Frankfurt on a 10-hour flight to Denver, the world had changed.

Swanepoel is a South African native who is the groundskeeper at the Kenmare Country Club.  This is his second year in the United States. He is classified as an H2A worker, which is essentially someone who receives a temporary visa to come to the United States to work for a season, most often in agriculture.

“There were no issues because I came in before everything got closed down,” Swanepoel said. “I had to go through Germany and when I was there, they were asking if I’d been to China or Italy.”

For a time, flights out of South Africa were shut down. Some of those flights have resumed out of Cape Town and Johannesburg, so if a person has all their paperwork in order, they can hop a flight to the United States. If paperwork isn’t up to speed, they can’t board a flight.

There are direct flights from Johannesburg to Atlanta, however, if anyone leaves out of Cape Town, they have to go through Europe, most often Amsterdam or Frankfurt before getting a connecting flight to Chicago or Minneapolis.

One thing Swanepoel had in his favor is that the paperwork is much easier the second time around. Last year, he had to go through customs and fill out a lot of paperwork. This time around it was much easier.

Swanepoel’s sponsor, Shane Harris of Kenmare, said that because he was here last year, getting through customs wasn’t as complicated as it might otherwise have been.

According to North Dakota Job Service, if an H2A worker spends an entire season in North Dakota and wants to return a second year, as long as they have followed all the rules and didn’t become ineligible for some reason, the paperwork is essentially rubber stamped.

Swanepoel made it to the United States, as did several others who are working on local farms for Trevor Melin, Micheal Brekhus and Andy Mau. They left South Africa in the nick of time. But Swanepoel has friends who didn’t leave in time and may not this year. Altogether, there are at least eight H2A workers from South Africa living and working in the Kenmare area.

Like Swanepoel, Brekhus’ hired hand left just before the lockdown and has had three weeks to settle into his new digs.

This is the first year Brekhus has brought an H2A employee to the farm. He said he is learning about the process as well, but Schalk Kleyhans, who goes by J.D., has some knowledge as he worked in the Carpio area in 2019.

Brekhus said he went through an agent in order to get Kleyhans to North Dakota and the farm.

He said Kleyhans’ duties include about anything that has to be done on the farm in order for the work to get done.

“It’s nice to have somebody with basic knowledge and understanding,” Brekhus said. “We were looking to get more help on the farm and it’s getting harder to find locals full time.”

For Swanepoel, he considers himself and the others who made it to Kenmare, lucky to be able to leave South Africa when they did.

“There are a lot of friends of mine who work in the U.S.,” he said. “The consulate is now locked down so even if you could get a flight, you can’t get out.”

He added, however, that a number of people he knows, are still here from working winter seasons in the south and aren’t able to get back to South Africa. In that case, he said their visas were just extended for three months.

Swanepoel, who has also worked in Iraq in the past, said he wasn’t sure about coming to the United States two years ago when one of his friends, working for the Melins, called and asked him to come to North Dakota.

“He called and asked,” Swanepoel said. “Maybe I’ll try it. Turns out it’s the best job ever,” he said of the golf course position.

Swanepoel said he loves it here, and coming to North Dakota was the first time in his lifetime that he saw snow.

“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “I left on the 18th (March) and was one of the last ones out.” ...  Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!