From Tonawanda-News.com, Staff Reports, The Tonawanda News, 5 Oct 2011.
NY— — Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, D-Hamburg, and Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Utica, introduced a bill in the U.S. House Tuesday to help Northeast dairy farms hire legal workers using the H-2A program.
The Access to Agricultural Labor Act of 2011 would allow foreign dairy workers to temporarily come to the United States to perform agricultural labor and services under the H-2A visa program. Under the program, dairy workers would be able to work in the United States for extendable periods of three years.
Currently, dairy workers are unable to participate in the H-2A program because dairy is a year-round industry, but the need for more labor is real and urgent in Upstate New York.
According to Dean E. Norton, president of New York Farm Bureau, the issue has been a high priority for several years and the three-year renewable visa would serve the dairy industry well.
“The dairy industry is the largest sector of farming in New York and is very important to the underlying agricultural services that are available throughout the state for all types of farming,” Norton said. “However, because dairy requires a year-round workforce it has not been eligible for the H-2A program. While H-2A has many problems and inadequacies that will make it difficult to use, it is the only legal way for farmers to secure foreign labor at this time when local labor is not available.”
Hochul said the legislation would allow for more production of local food rather than imported food, and keep farms in business to support upstate’s overall economy.
“The viability of the dairy farm industry is critical to the long-term sustainability of Western New York’s economy,” Congresswoman Hochul said. “We need to do all we can to support these family farmers, which is why it is unfair to exclude dairy farmers from the H-2A visa program.
“They face many of the same labor shortage issues that other sectors of the agriculture community face, which is why Rep. Hanna and I are working to ensure they have the same resources available to get their jobs done.”
The H-2A program allows foreign workers to enter the U.S. for seasonal or temporary agriculture work. During the past 15 years in the Northeast, farmers have reported difficulties hiring native-born local workers.
“If we want to continue to have a safe and reliable food supply produced in Upstate New York, then this program will be incredibly helpful for dairy farmers,” Congressman Hanna said. “Allowing dairy farmers access to legal and stable workforce through the H-2A visa program will keep our farms running, and it means agriculture-related businesses will continue to bolster our economy.”