As dairy operations increase animal numbers, they have also increased dependence on a larger labor pool. That labor pool has become less dominated by family members, and more dependent on foreign born labor (FBL) There undoubtedly would be benefits, however, there is significant risk for the dairy industry in any immigration legislation.
Laurie Fischer, CEO of American Dairy Coalition spoke to WIDA members at their annual meeting last night, highlighting what she is working on in immigration legislation in Washington as a lobbyist on behalf of dairymen.
Two bills introduced recently would modify the existing H-2A agricultural visa program to make it easier for dairy farmers to hire the foreign labor they need to run their operations. Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Chris Collins (R-NY) co-authored the Farm Family Relief Act in January. Rep. Sean Duffy’s (R-WI) introduced the Defending the Agricultural Industry’s Requirements Year-round (DAIRY) Act this month.
The Family Farm Relief Act of 2017 bill directs the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a process for receiving H-2A non-immigrant visas (temporary agricultural workers) which shall ensure that that petitioners may file such petitions over the Internet or in paper form. Administration of the H-2A program is transferred from the Department of Labor to USDA. The bill includes year-round livestock workers, including dairy workers, in the H-2A category with a maximum three-year period of admissions, which may be renewed three months after the end of each such period and revises H-2A certification provisions.
The Defending the Agricultural Industry’s Requirements Year-round Act of 2017 (DAIRY Act), expands the H-2A worker program to benefit dairy farmers. Currently, agricultural guest worker programs do not work well for dairy because the industry is not seasonal. This bill modifies the existing visa program to allow dairy workers to hold a visa for 18 months, giving Wisconsin farmers certainty about the stability of their workforce.