Congressman Chris Jacobs, R-Orchard Park, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, has introduced legislation that would make the dairy industry eligible for H-2A temporary agricultural visas.
The H-2A temporary agricultural workers program – often called the H-2A visa program - helps American farmers fill employment gaps by hiring workers from other countries.
Legal hiring of temporary agricultural guest workers under the H-2A visa program has grown dramatically in recent years. New York’s 8,482 certified H-2A positions last year was more than double its total in 2012 and was in the top 10 nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Dairy workers, however, have not been eligible for H-2A status.
“As I have traveled throughout NY-27 and met with farmers, one thing that has become clear is the need for dairy producers to have access to a steady and legal workforce,” Jacobs said this week in a statement.
Jacobs said his legislation “would fix an urgent need while Congress works on broader reforms to the H-2A program.”
The Dairy H-2A Eligibility Act would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to include “dairy worker” as an eligible candidate for H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa status. Employers are currently only eligible for H-2A non-immigrant classification if they offer a temporary or seasonal position. Though H-2A workers are themselves temporary, dairy production has been interpreted to not qualify for these visas because it occurs year-round.
“Dairy’s workforce crisis is especially severe because dairy farms, which operate year-round, can’t use the H-2A program, which is seasonal,” Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, said in a statement.
The New York Farm Bureau has again identified agricultural labor reform as a priority in 2021.
“We must address the seasonal and long-term needs of agriculture, including for the state’s dairy farms that currently do not have access to a year-round federal guest worker program,” New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a statement.
President Joe Biden has called for comprehensive immigration reform, something the federal government hasn’t achieved since 1986. Biden’s immigration plan, known as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, offers hope for farmworkers who are currently in this country to remain in the U.S. with legal permanent resident status, Farm Bureau officials said, but the legislation still does not address the long-term needs of the country’s farmers, farmworkers, and food supply.
“The bottom line,” Jacobs said, “is that we need a migrant worker program that respects and enforces our immigration laws while providing farmers with the workforce that they need.”