Today, during a press conference call, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer unveiled details of the bipartisan immigration deal that was just released on Tuesday, and how it will positively impact farmers throughout Upstate New York and the Northeast. For years, Schumer has visited farms and heard from both farmers and farm workers about the critical importance of immigration reform, and Schumer made those concerns a top priority as he lead the charge in recent immigration negotiations. On the call, Schumer described his plan to provide a year-round supply of labor for dairy farmers, ensure that New York apple and fruit growers can be more competitive on a national scale, and more.
The New York Farm Bureau supports this legislation, and Schumer was joined on the call by New York Farm Bureau President, Dean Norton. Schumer highlighted some of the key provisions in the new immigration deal that will positively impact Upstate New York farmers. Overall -- the legislation is focused on improving accessibility to foreign workers, a path to citizenship for workers and families, streamlining the application process for employers to hire those workers, ensuring that wages are competitive with other states, and providing a portable visa waiver program with adequate protections for the workforce.
"For years I have visited Upstate New York dairy farms and heard again and again: there is a severe shortage of legal labor at our farms that is hampering their growth and ability to spur economic growth in local communities. This bipartisan plan will fix that and provides a blueprint for immigration reform that will help create a stable, legal agricultural workforce for New York's dairy farmers, fruit and vegetable farmers, vineyards and horse farms, and eventually allow those dedicated workers to obtain legal status if qualified.
Schumer continued, "One of our biggest industries is dairy, and, of course, dairy is not a seasonal crop -- it is a year round operation. This legislation addresses the need for a year-round supply of labor for our dairy producers to better meet the demands of the Greek yogurt industry. The labor supply issue also affects other sectors, and the new agricultural guest worker program will help ensure that our fruit and apple growers don't watch their product go bad because there aren't enough people to harvest them, or because their application for certified workers is stuck in bureaucratic red tape. There is still a long path to go, but I will fight to see these common sense reforms to the finish."
"New York Farm Bureau cannot thank Senator Schumer enough for his hard work on critical immigration reform on behalf of farmers in this state. For years, family farms have faced difficulties finding legal labor that is absolutely necessary to plant spring crops, milk the cows, and harvest the fruits and vegetables. This reform package would not only give farmers peace of mind, but would allow our family farms to grow knowing they will have access to a reliable and stable workforce that is essential for providing healthy, local food to the people of New York," said Dean Norton, President of New York Farm Bureau.
Schumer highlighted two areas on the call to demonstrate the ways in which Upstate New York benefits: dairy and fruit production. For dairy farmers, labor is a primary obstacle to the expansion of the dairy industry in New York, the fourth largest in the nation. Lack of workers has threatened their ability to meet rising demand, caused in part by the booming Greek yogurt industry. That is because dairy farmers are generally not able to hire foreign workers through the existing guest-worker program for agriculture because it is only for seasonal workers, and milk production is year-round. The new guest worker W-2 and W-3 visa program, will ensure that our dairy farmers have a reliable, year-round supply of labor.
New York is the second largest apple producer in the country -- and, from Concord grapes to organic arugula, the state produces many other fruits and vegetables as well. In New York and across the country a severe labor shortage has led to a subsequent loss of crops -- up to 25% nationwide. This has forced farmers to raise their picking pay just to get their crops harvested, but even then there's an insufficient workforce. This legislation will help ensure there is sufficient, legal seasonal labor available so that produce aren't left unharvested. Fruit and vegetable farmers will also benefit from fair nationwide wage rates for agricultural workers.
A summary of the key agriculture components of the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013" appear below:
· Proposal allows farm employees who are already skilled and working on our Upstate New York farms to continue working and eventually obtain legal status. There will be a specific "agriculture" section under the new Registered Provisional Immigrant program created for current farm workers in Upstate New York. If these workers have made a substantial prior commitment to agricultural work in the United States, they would be eligible for an Agricultural Card, also known as a Blue Card. This card provides legal permanent resident status in an expedited manner, only if those agricultural workers commit to fulfill future Agricultural Card work requirements in U.S. agriculture, show that they have paid all taxes, have not been convicted of any serious crime, and pay a $400 fine. Schumer highlighted that this is important to Upstate Farmers because they can keep the workers that they have trained and that are familiar with the work and there will be minimal disruption to labor. These Agricultural Card holders would also have access to a slightly expedited and less costly path to citizenship and will be allowed to continue work at Upstate New York farms in the meantime.
· The seasonal nature of farming in New York is taken into account by establishing a cap on agriculture workers allowed in this country, ensuring that warmer climates do not use up the allotted number before New York farmers secure workforce they need. For the first 5 years, the visa program is capped at 112,333 per year. Within the first year, visas shall be evenly distributed 4 times per calendar year, which is important to states with colder climates like New York. After the first year, the USDA Secretary may modify disbursement of visas based on prior usage patterns, to ensure that colder states like New York have fair access to this workforce.
· A new agricultural guest worker visa program will be established to ensure there is an adequate agricultural workforce for all farms in Upstate New York. The W-3 visa, is portable amongst potential farmers, often called at-will employment, and the other W-2 visa, is contract based and would replace the current H-2A program.
· The process for farmers to be approved for legal guest workers is streamlined. Under the current system, there is a convoluted application process that an employer must go through to hire legal workers -- it is costly, and there are often delays and disputes that can leave farms with severe labor shortages. Under Schumer's plan, employers must first demonstrate they are unable to find available workers and submit a simple application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to hire a guest worker. The application will be quickly reviewed for any obvious indicators of fraud or misrepresentation of fact and then certified.
· This legislation ensures that there is a nationwide wage rate for agricultural workers that is fair for farmers and workers, and will allow states in the Northeast to remain competitive.