By Laurie Fischer
American Dairy Coalition CEO

For 20 years, members of the dairy industry have looked to our federal government to fix our broken immigration system. As dairy producers grow their operations to keep up with the growing global demand for nutritious, safe and affordable dairy products, more and more manpower is needed to milk the cows, tend the fields and keep the dairy industry viable. 
These low-skilled, but vitally important jobs are passed up by domestic workers time and time again — regardless of increased starting wages and benefit packages. These unfilled jobs are important for creating the higher-skilled jobs that employ thousands and thousands of domestic workers. 
The bottom line: If dairy producers can’t find the labor they need, our nation must either import workers or import dairy products from foreign countries. Dairy producers have patiently waited for the federal government to provide a legal immigration reform solution, yet each year they are left with no answers and an increasingly dire situation.  

The American Dairy Coalition (ADC) and the 35,000 producer members we represent are taking a new approach at immigration reform. ADC is working with federal legislators on the introduction of immigration reform bills. Recently, two new bills have been introduced. These bills would function as a tool dairy producers can utilize to find the reliable workers. Legislators are not focused on passing one comprehensive immigration reform bill. This means we will need several bills to pass in order to have true reform.  Time has taught us that there is no “one size fits all” answer to immigration reform. The more bills (or tools) we pass, the greater the chances that all facets of the dairy, agriculture and livestock industries have the workers they need. 
In May, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, introduced his “State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017.”  This bill will create a nonimmigrant visa category, allowing states to sponsor foreign nationals who wish to perform services, provide investment, direct an enterprise, or otherwise contribute to the economic development of that state. This bill also will provide an avenue for current undocumented workers to be vetted stringently by Homeland Security, bringing them out of the shadows and allowing them access to a renewable visa. This visa does not provide citizenship or access to federal entitlement programs, such as health care or food stamps. 
The needs for immigrant labor vary across our nation; therefore, the best way to ensure the states have access to skill-appropriate labor is a system that is determined by the states. The federal government will still vet visa applicants to ensure our nation’s safety, but the states will have control over whether the program is implemented in their state, whether or not they will enter into interstate compacts to share labor, the ability to designate the number of visas per industry based on economics, and the length of the visas (so long as it does not exceed three years). 
This new approach to federal immigration reform will provide an option for farmers to legalize workers — falling short of providing citizenship and federal benefits — to the law-abiding, hard-working immigrants already fulfilling vital roles in the dairy industry throughout the nation. 
The American Dairy Coalition continues to work with Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), Vice-Chair of the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus, on a bill he recently introduced called the DAIRY Act. This bill will provide dairy producers with a provision to utilize the H2-A visa program. Previously, the dairy industry was excluded due to its 365-day-a-year need for labor. With the addition of dairy to the H2-A visa category, it will provide year-round farming operations the same access to new workers as seasonal operations, ensuring the nation’s crops are harvested and animals are milked and cared for in a timely, safe and efficient manner. 
The dairy industry has waited more than two decades to fix the labor crisis. If we do not act now, another 20 years may go by before any meaningful reform is passed — time farmers simply do not have. It is vital that we come together to provide solutions to the desperate farmers who are trying to provide healthy and affordable access to the foods our nation’s families depend upon. 
It is crucial to support these Wisconsin motivated legislators, Duffy and Johnson, who are working hard to provide the dairy industry with solutions.  
The ADC’s work is far from done. We continue to push these bills forward while working on additional immigration reform bills. The ADC believes the time to change the future is now.  
Laurie Fischer is the CEO and founder of the American Dairy Coalition. For more information, visit www.americandairycoalitioninc.com.


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