July 19, 2017

H-2A Revisions Make It Palatable For Dairy Producers

 |  By: Mike Opperman

The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the fiscal 2018 homeland security spending bill that could have significant impact on the ability of dairy producers to use the H-2A guest worker program. According to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), who offered the amendment, all of agriculture would be allowed to use the program and the stipulation that the work be short term would be nullified.

“Today, large segments of American agriculture face a critical lack of workers, a problem made worse by the fact that the H-2A program is not working for all of agriculture,” Rep. Newhouse says. “My amendment clarifies that all of agriculture may use H-2A so it operates effectively as our nation’s Ag guest worker program.” Newhouse emphasizes that the amendment does not change the time limits a worker employed through the H-2A program can stay in the U.S. —three years with renewals—and would still require farmers to show they are first hiring domestic workers.

Currently the H-2A program restricts use to supplying only temporary and seasonal labor. This is a problem for dairy that requires year-long employment.

As expected, dairy groups like the National Milk Producers Federation applaud this effort. In an NMPF statement, the organization said that “Rep. Newhouse’s proposal to expand the H-2A visa program so that dairy employers can use it to hire workers is a positive development. This amendment recognizes that we need to create new approaches to addressing the needs of dairy employers for a legal, reliable supply of farm workers.” NMPF says this amendment is a first step toward creating a sensible, workable means of filling farm jobs in the future.

After reviewing the amendment, the American Farm Bureau offered support as well. “The American Farm Bureau Federation applauds Rep. Newhouse for his leadership in seeking to improve the H-2A program,” says Paul Schlegel, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “By opening up the program to other agricultural sectors, such as dairy and mushrooms, the Newhouse amendment has the potential of providing growers greater opportunities for finding workers.  The availability of labor is a critical issue for agriculture, and we welcome Rep. Newhouse’s efforts and will continue to work with him on broader labor issues that are challenges for agriculture.”

The amendment was adopted on a voice vote with bipartisan support. The debate will continue today when the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration Subcommittee holds a hearing on agricultural guest workers.

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