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House bills create dairy worker access through H-2A visa program

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 18 April 2017

With Congress expected to tackle immigration reform later this year, two bills introduced in the House of Representatives would provide dairy worker access under a revised federal guest worker program.

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin) introduced H.R. 2087, the Defending the Agricultural Industry’s Requirements Year-round Act of 2017 (DAIRY Act), on April 12. The bill modifies the existing H-2A guest worker visa program to allow workers to hold a visa for 18 months, giving dairy farmers certainty about the stability of their workforce. The current H-2A guest worker visa program is limited to seasonal employees.

Duffy serves as a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus, a group made up of federal lawmakers dedicated to educating other members on the importance of the dairy industry to the nation's economy.

H.R. 2087 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Family Farm Relief Act of 2017

Previously, U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik and Chris Collins (both R-New York) introduced H.R. 281, the Family Farm Relief Act of 2017. Among other provisions, that proposal would transfer administration of the H-2A agricultural visa program from the U.S. Department of Labor to USDA.

Under the Department of Labor, the federal H2A guest visa program has been cumbersome, prone to delays and too rigid to fit the needs of both farmers and their employees, according to the New York Farm Bureau.

H.R. 281 expands visa eligibility to year-round livestock workers, including dairy workers. It extends the period of work eligibility to three years, with additional three-month renewal periods available.

This legislation also allows farm cooperatives and other agricultural associations to apply for workers for their members, and requires reporting to Congress if delays occur in the H-2A Visa application process.

In addition to transferring oversight to USDA, the bill allows visa applicants to fill out H-2A applications on paper or online and ends requirements on advertising and prevailing practice surveys.

H.R. 281 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

Both bills and other congressional efforts help address the unique labor needs of dairy farmers, according to the head of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

“We welcome these efforts to shine a light on an issue so critical to dairy producers,” said NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern. “Dairy farming is a physically demanding, 24-7, 365-day job. Without the help of foreign labor, many American dairy operations face the threat of closure.”

NMPF is engaged on the issue of immigration reform through its leadership in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC). NMPF and the AWC have long supported immigration security and reform measures, with the caveat that any proposal also includes avenues to protect current workers and enable a smooth transition to a visa program for future ones.

Farmworker Justice, a migrant worker advocacy organization, said H.R. 281 fails to protect domestic agricultural employees who could be displaced by foreign workers, and fails to protect foreign workers already in the U.S. with legal rights and paths to citizenship.

During his Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing, USDA secretary nominee Sonny Perdue said he supports an exemption to the H-2A program so that dairy farms can hire workers year-round. end mark

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