Attention members of Congress from Wisconsin:
Dairy farmers across the state need an immigration bill signed into law this year.
The comprehensive and bipartisan reforms approved by the U.S. Senate will do the job. Variations on the bill made by the House might work, too.
What’s key for Wisconsin farmers is the ability to hire the workers they need — when they need them — to help milk the cows, harvest the crops and pick the fruit.
That’s not easy work. And immigrant labor has been key to getting the job done. About 40 percent of dairy farm workers in Wisconsin are immigrants, according to a UW-Madison study.
Wisconsin farmers need simpler, more reasonable rules for hiring these workers. Current law is too strict and complicated.
For example, farmers applying for workers through the government’s existing H2A visa program say it takes an average of 22 days to get the help they need. A lot can happen during those three-plus weeks of delay. The crop can freeze or the fruit can spoil, said Karen Gefvert, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
“It’s a slow, arduous process and full of red tape,” Gefvert said Tuesday.
“The economic impact of that delay is significant.”
The U.S. Senate bill would phase out the H2A visas in two years. Instead, the government would issue “blue cards” allowing existing and experienced farm workers to continue to work year-round in agriculture here. Those workers also could become citizens over time after paying back taxes and fines and undergoing background checks.
The U.S. Senate bill also would grant three-year visas to foreign farm workers to contract with farmers here or to follow traditional harvest cycles.
The changes would give Wisconsin farmers the stable and legal work force they need. Many of the available jobs now go unfilled because the work is difficult, long and in remote places.
Farmers across the country are complaining about a shrinking labor pool, according to the Associated Press.
Those in Congress who represent America’s Dairyland should listen and respond to farmers’ pleas for help.