Senate Immigration Bill Would Benefit Dairies

09:52AM Apr 18, 2013
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( Catherine Merlo )

Bipartisan bill’s ‘blue card’ would allow farmers to keep their existing workforce.

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

"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 features in 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 agricultural workforce. Administered by USDA, it would provide growers with a streamlined process to petition for workers while ensuring critical worker protections.

Read the Senate bill here.

 While the legislation likely makes mandatory electronic employment verification, or E-Verify, inevitable, it will be phased in over five years, Regelbrugge says. It’s expected that agriculture, because of its large size, would be one of the last sectors required to adopt E-Verify. That would give farm and dairy employers time to understand and 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 work at least 100 days a year for five years or workers who perform at least 150 days a year for three years can adjust status to permanent residency. To be eligible for permanent residence, agricultural 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 with National Milk Producers Federation, says agriculture’s work with lawmakers to craft the bill wasn’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. Discussion also will begin in the House. In addition, the House is developing its own immigration reform package.