With immigration reform looming in Washington D.C., it is more important than ever for our industry to vocally support sound legislation that protects ag businesses and the future of agriculture. That is why 57 dairy cooperatives and state dairy associations, the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and Land O’Lakes, Inc. are supporting the Agriculture Guestworker (AG) Act proposed by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
The aim of the bill is to provide farmers with access to a reliable supply of legal workers. Currently, as members of the ag industry know, working through the federal visa program to secure workers is a difficult and expensive process, and no year-round guest worker option for dairy exists. The AG Act would create a new guest worker program that would greatly benefit America’s ag industry by simplifying the process of obtaining visas and hiring workers.
The new H-2C visa would replace the current burdensome H-2A program. The program will be administered by the USDA, which has a unique understanding of producers’ labor needs. Under the AG Act, 500,000 visas will be available to farmers and ranchers to provide a steady year-round and seasonal labor pool across the nation.
Under the bill, year-round laborers will be required to ‘touch back’ by spending 45 days per year in their home countries in order to maintain the program as a guest worker and not permanent immigration program. More discussion on how to implement this provision while minimizing impacts for employers will be forthcoming.
Additionally, the AG Act will allow unauthorized ag workers currently in U.S. to join the H-2C, provided they successfully meet a number of criteria, and 10,000 green cards will be earmarked annually exclusively for ag workers. (You can read the House Judiciary Committee’s report on Goodlatte’s bill here.)
For these reasons, dairy industry groups and cooperatives support the AG Act. “It recognizes that we need to move past the status quo and pursue a new approach to matching the supply and demand for workers in U.S. agriculture,” says NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern.
Land O’Lakes, Inc. encourages its member-owners to contact their representatives and encourage them to support the AG Act and other immigration legislation that supports agriculture’s ability to train and hire workers at adequate staffing levels.
If you have any immediate questions, please feel free to contact Autumn Price or Katie Zenk in the Land O’Lakes Government Relations office by emailing GovernmentRelations@landolakes.com.