The dairy industry and other members of the agriculture industry might see a glimmer of light at the end of what’s been a long legislative tunnel for labor reform, thanks to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
The bipartisan immigration bill would provide legal status to current agricultural workers and their families and reform the H2A guest-worker visa program.
Specifically, the bill offers a path to legal status, either five-year visas or citizenship, for longtime U.S. agricultural workers with clean records, journalist Tal Kopan wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle article. “It would also overhaul the farm visa system to make it easier for employers to file applications, would limit mandatory wage increases, and would provide year-round visas for industries like dairy farms that are not seasonal,” Kopan reported.
On Wednesday, The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) announced its support for the bill.
“America’s dairy farmers are eager to advance and improve this legislation as it moves through the Congress,” said Mike McCloskey, a dairy farmer and chairman of NMPF’s immigration taskforce, in a news release.
“As producers of a year-round product, dairy farmers face a unique labor crisis because our jobs are not seasonal or temporary. From our years of work on these issues, we know first-hand just how hard immigration reform is,” he added. “But we simply cannot and will not stop working to find a solution. Dairy needs workers for our industry to sustain itself. It’s that simple, and it’s that dire.”
Negotiations on the bill have been in the works for several months. To date, roughly 100 farm labor groups have said they support the effort. The bill was sponsored by judiciary immigration subcommittee chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA).
Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of NMPF, said the bill is a critical first step in the legislative process.
“We urge the Senate to work with us on this important issue so we can get an ag worker bill across the finish line in this Congress,” Mulhern said, in a prepared statement. “The bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act provides an important starting point for badly needed improvements to agriculture immigration policy.”
If the bill passes the House, it still faces an uncertain future in the Senate. In addition, President Trump has not indicated yet that he will back it.