U.S. Senator Herb Kohl co-sponsored bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) to ensure that dairy farmers and sheepherders can use a visa program long used by other sectors of the agriculture industry to hire foreign workers.
The H-2A Improvement Act will authorize dairy workers, sheepherders and goat herders to enter the U.S. for an initial period of three years, and gives U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the authority to approve a worker for an additional three-year period. After the first three-year period, the worker may petition to become a lawful permanent resident.
"Dairy farms dot the Wisconsin landscape and the dairy industry is unlike other segments of agriculture," Kohl said. "This bill addresses the unique challenges facing the dairy industry under the current H2-A program by providing access to a year-round workforce. "
"As a Senator from a state that prides itself on its dairy products and a long tradition of family farming, it is unacceptable that dairy farmers are put in a position of choosing between their livelihoods and taking risks with a potential employee's immigration status," said Leahy. "I strongly believe that the vast majority of dairy farmers want to hire a lawful workforce, and our policy should support these goals."
"Agricultural operations often require very skilled labor that cannot be found locally. That is exactly why a one size fits all immigration policy for agriculture simply doesn't work. This change will bring a personalized fit to sheepherders and dairy farmers that is long overdue," said Enzi.
Certain sectors of the agriculture industry suffered a setback in 2010 when the U.S. Department of Labor issued rules that continued to exclude the dairy industry from the H-2A agricultural worker visa program. Sheepherders and goat herders may access the H-2A program under current regulations, but should have the certainty of a change in the statute. The H-2A Improvement Act will remedy this gap in the law. The H-2A visa program allows farmers to hire foreign workers when needed to keep U.S. farms open and producing.
Leahy and Enzi introduced the legislation on April 14, before the Senate recessed.