With Congress set to begin debating comprehensive immigration reform as early as this week, Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) today introduced legislation to help ensure a stable workforce for Vermont and New York dairy farmers by granting them access to an important visa program. The Congressmen will fight to get their bill -- or similar protections -- included in any final reform package.
The H-2A visa program allows businesses to hire foreign workers when domestic labor is unavailable. Although other sectors of agriculture currently have access to the H-2A program, dairy farmers do not. That disparity has made it difficult for dairy farmers to secure a stable workforce. The H-2A Improvement Act would expand the H-2A program to allow dairy farmers access to three-year visas that would better accommodate their workforce needs.
"Vermont's dairy farmers are hanging on by their fingernails," Welch said. "Every day they struggle with multiple challenges to survival, including high energy costs, unstable milk prices, and a shortage of workers. This legislation will help take one challenge off their plates. With a bipartisan push to overhaul the nation's immigration system gaining momentum, there is a real opportunity to make progress on this important issue."
"Dairy farmers play a tremendously important role in job creation and economic development in rural New York, but finding and maintaining an adequate labor supply throughout the year is a consistent challenge for the industry," Owens said. "This legislation takes steps to improve the system and reduce burdens on dairy farmers so operations across New York will have every opportunity to grow and succeed in today's economy."
"Agriculture, and dairy farming in particular, is a major economic driver in upstate New York and the Southern Tier," Hanna said. "Our farmers are simply not getting the legal, reliable labor they need out of our current immigration system. Any serious immigration and border security reform should include a bipartisan, commonsense proposal to help keep our dairy farms alive and growing -- like the H-2A Improvement Act."
Various working groups in the House and Senate have been preparing proposals to be unveiled as early as this week.