Progress in farm labor policy

As a bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation this morning dealing with comprehensive immigration reform, members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) highlighted the crucial stake American agriculture has in the debate.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), which is a founding member of the AWC, has made fixing the broken immigration system one of its highest priorities over the past decade. NMPF’s President and CEO Jerry Kozak told press conference attendees that “what we’re working with lawmakers to do is not merely fixing a broken system, but scrapping an old set of unworkable rules and replacing it with something better.”

“The approach in this agreement is better for employers, better for employees, better for law enforcement, better for the economy – better for America,” Kozak said.

Kozak identified four key items essential to dairy farmers that any eventual deal on immigration reform must contain. These include:

 

1.      Establishing a blue card for experienced agricultural workers. This provides a means for farmers to keep their existing workforce, including those who may not be legally documented. Dairy farmers should not lose experienced, loyal employees as part of this effort.

2.      Creating a new visa system for future workers that is easy to use and affordable. Current efforts won’t be worth it if the resulting product is too cumbersome, costly, and confusing for farmers to use.

3.      Assuring the future flow of new workers so that as the economy and jobs shift and evolve. Dairy farmers must have a means to recruit and hire new dairy workers for a long period of time.

4.      Eliminating the seasonality element of any ag visa program such as H2A, which prevented U.S. dairy farmers from using it. Dairy farmers need relief from having to demonstrate the seasonal or temporary nature of employment.

 

Kozak stressed that although much of the work on comprehensive immigration reform has been done, there is still more to do. Negotiations will continue as members of the Senate debate the legislation, and the discussion also begins in the House of Representatives.

National Farmers Union (NFU) Vice President of Government Relations Chandler Goule expressed the support of his organization as well.

“NFU’s member-adopted, grassroots policy urges that ‘our immigration system must be flexible enough to address the needs of businesses while protecting the interests of workers.’ The legislative language, as unveiled by the bipartisan group of Senators who have been advancing immigration reform policy, achieves those goals,” Goule said. “NFU will continue to pursue reforms that provide a documented and legal means for allowing immigrants to work on U.S. farms and ranches. Such a system will benefit both farm owners and workers and is an important improvement on the status quo.” 

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