Policy: Dairy, the Biggest Winner

May 6, 2013 10:04 PM

Immigration bill lets farmers keep existing workers

The U.S. dairy industry would benefit from the landmark agreement, "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," introduced in the U.S. Senate on April 17, industry sources say.

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"Dairy will be the single biggest winner in agriculture" because the bill offers provisions for a year-round flow of workers and allows employers to keep their existing workforce, says Craig Regelbrugge, co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform.

Among the 844-page proposal is a provision that establishes a "blue card" that allows experienced agricultural workers to remain in the U.S.

The proposed bill also ditches the H-2A visa program. In its place, a new agricultural guest-worker visa program would be established to provide a more stable workforce. Administered by USDA, it would create a streamlined process to find workers while ensuring worker protections.

While the proposal likely makes mandatory electronic employment verification (E-Verify) inevitable, it will be phased in over five years, Regelbrugge says. Agriculture, because of its large size, is expected to be one of the last sectors required to adopt E-Verify to give employers time to implement the requirement.

Undocumented farm workers who can demonstrate a minimum of 100 work days or 575 hours in the two years before the legislation is enacted would be eligible for an agricultural card. Workers who perform at least 100 days a year for five years or at least 150 days a year for three years can adjust status to permanent residency. To be eligible for permanent residence, farm workers must show that they have paid all taxes, have not been convicted of any serious crime and pay a $400 fine.

Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, says the bill isn’t "merely fixing a broken system, but scrapping an old set of unworkable rules and replacing it with something better."

Negotiations will continue as the Senate debates the proposed legislation. The House is also developing its own immigration reform package.

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