From DairyHerd.com, Dairy Herd news source, 18 Apr 2011.
ARLINGTON, VA – The National Milk Producers Federation today endorsed a new Senate bill that would allow dairy farmers to utilize a federal visa program to bring foreign dairy workers to the U.S.
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have introduced the H-2A Improvement Act, which will authorize foreign dairy workers, sheep herders, and goat herders to remain in the U.S. for an initial period of three years, and gives the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services the authority to approve a worker for an additional three-year period.
“Finding qualified workers to help milk the cows remains a real challenge for dairy farms, all across America,” said Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of NMPF. “Expanding the H-2A program so that dairy farmers can use it is one answer to that challenge.”
Kozak said there is now a greater sense of urgency, because of heightened immigration enforcement activities directed at employers, including dairy farmers. Passage of this legislation “is critical for the continuation of milk production in the United States. It is unfortunate that producers need to worry about raids and audits in addition to having to worry about prices and the weather,” said Kozak.
The new H-2A visa legislation “provides a measure of equity so that dairy owners are treated that same as other farm employers who currently can use the H-2A program,” Kozak said. Under present law, farms that hire seasonal workers to harvest fruits and vegetables can utilize the H-2A visa program. Dairy farms are not included because milk production is not considered seasonal work, a situation “that is unfair to one of the largest agricultural sectors,” he said.
Kozak said that NMPF continues to support comprehensive efforts to reform the nation’s immigration policies, especially legislation that would address current unauthorized agricultural workers.
A survey released in 2009 of the labor and hiring practices of U.S. dairy operations found that many farms are heavily dependent on foreign laborers, and that the dairy sector would be crippled if it had no access to immigrant workers. That survey is available on the NMPF website.