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Answer to 20-year labor shortage problem may be around the corner

Laurie Fischer for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 July 2017

Farmers across the nation are in dire need of a reliable visa program that provides timely access to a long-term workforce to fill jobs domestic workers continually pass up. Current visa programs do not provide dairy producers with year-round labor and are riddled with complexities and bureaucratic red tape that remain troublesome to even seasonal labor needs.

To provide an answer to a 20-year-old labor shortage problem, new solutions are necessary to ensure our nation’s producers have access to reliable, safe labor, so they can continue to grow and conduct business with confidence. After all, these businesses pour billions of dollars into our economy and provide safe and affordable nutrition to families across the globe.

The Agricultural Guestworker Act, planned to be introduced later this summer by Rep. Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, will aim to replace the inefficient and troublesome H2-A program with a new guest worker visa – the H-2C. To boost the agricultural labor market and eliminate bureaucratic red tape, this program would be administered by the USDA, rather than the Department of Labor. The USDA better understands the unique needs of the American dairy and agriculture industry and the challenges they face. Furthermore, rather than just supporting seasonal labor needs, the H-2C would serve the more diverse needs of dairy, food processing and other year-round operations.

The program works by allowing a “registered agricultural employer” to offer up to 36-month visas to both existing and incoming laborers. Current undocumented workers will be encouraged to identify themselves to participate in this program. The H-2C will offer workers and employers more choices in their arrangements, providing more flexibility and opportunity for workers to move freely to meet labor demands across the marketplace. In most cases, the workers can be employed under contract or at will. Employers will not be required to train or hire unneeded workers after their workforce is established (effectively eliminating the cumbersome “50 percent rule”).

The American Dairy Coalition (ADC) is in support of this visa. The group is composed of more than 30,000 dairy producers from across the nation, represented through memberships, state and national associations, and across a variety of allied industry businesses. The ADC has “boots on the ground” on Capitol Hill each day, working to move this and many other immigration bills through Congress that will benefit our industry. However, more help is needed to push reform across the finish line.

It is vital your elective official understands the labor struggles your business faces. The ADC needs your help in bridging the gap between those who determine immigration reform policy and those who use the programs they create. Your support and your voice is needed now more than ever. For more information on the ADC, the Agricultural Guestworker Act and how you can become involved in the fight for immigration reform, please contact the coalition by visiting the ADC website.  end mark

Laurie Fischer is president of the American Dairy Coalition.

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