Guest Worker Program, H-2A, Labor, Visas

Should H-2A Visa Program Laws be Changed to Allow Foreign Workers on Dairy Farms?

From Rochester.YNN.com, Your News Now, “Should H-2A visa program laws be changed to allow foreign workers on dairy farms?” by Brian Dwyer, 29 Mar 2011.

It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Farm jobs, particularly milking cows, isn’t not the prettiest work and farms say they can’t find locals willing to do it. They say they’re forced to foreign workers. But as our Brian Dwyer reports, one farm learned the hard way that that can be a problem and it’s led to some asking Washington to step in and help.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, N.Y. — Last week, the investigation into the accidental death of a worker at the Butterville Farms in Henderson turned into a raid with federal agents arresting eight of the farms’ employees for allegedly being in the country illegally.

“The loss of eight milkers to a diary farm would be like the loss of all the reporters in the field for news 10,” Butterville Farms Spokesperson Jay Matteson said. “What can you do if you don’t have milkers? That’s where the whole process begins.”

Matteson says if you need proof of how important foreign workers are to dairy farms all over the state, you can focus right here at Butterville. In the days since the raid, the farm’s efforts to find new employees to cover the workload has been just about impossible.

“It’s the most critical job on the farm and yet it’s the least desirable. So trying to find people to do that work is hard,” he said.

Matteson says the law only allows farms to go so far in determining the legal status of an employee.

“The farms are in a situation where they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” Matteson added. “I’ve had people ask me, well why don’t they ask them more questions? Why don’t they ask them if they’re here legally or illegally?”

Matteson says questions like that can lead to lawsuits against the farms and he’s now asking Washington lawmakers for help.

Currently seasonal farms, like apple and fruit farms, are allowed to employ foreign workers for up to a year. He wants to see dairy farms added to the H-2A visa program and the workers be allowed to stay for up to five years.

“No doubt we absolutely have to have immigration reform for farmers,” North Country Congressman Bill Owens said. “Whether it’s the H-2A program or a guest worker program, there must be something that allows people to come into the United States and perform the tasks farmers need done.”

Matteson says it can be a win-win. The farms still pay each foreign employee’s social security, Medicare and more, but most of them return home without collecting it. He says that means the money can be used on deficits elsewhere.

Owens says he’s already tried to get a bill passed that would allow dairy farms the foreign help for a longer time period, but it was rejected. He says he’s hoping a republican will be able to step in and try and get something similar passed. He says he does not believe the bill was rejected because of fears that foreigners would be more apt to collect those benefits if they stayed longer. He says it would be five years and no one would be retiring here.

See video at: Rochester.YNN.com, Your News Now, “Should H-2A visa program laws be changed to allow foreign workers on dairy farms?” by Brian Dwyer, 29 Mar 2011.

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