A new bill announced in early January would allow foreign workers with appropriate visas to do farming work in the United States for spans of three years.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Congressman Chris Collins introduced this bill, named the Family Farm Relief Act of 2017.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our North Country economy and I am pleased to introduce this important bill to address the labor shortages facing our farmers,” Stefanik said in a press release.
The H-2A visa is a temporary work visa for foreign agricultural workers, with a job offer for seasonal agricultural work in the U.S., according to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services website. The H-2A visa program is open to foreign workers that the United States Secretary of Homeland Security has designated as eligible to participate, and is revised annually.
If adapted into law, farmers would no longer have to advertise to local workers before applying for international visas. Changes would allow farmers to extend their employment reach by not striking requirements to hire any qualified American who applies through the first half of the work period and having to offer jobs to previously employed immigrant workers.
“When I travel the district speaking with our farmers, I often hear about how unnecessary delays in worker visas lead to difficulty meeting production goals. This commonsense legislation simply puts the H-2A agricultural visa program in the hands of those who best understand the specific needs of our farms.” said Stefanik.
The bill would allow foreign workers to work for three years, and leave for three months before renewing their visas again.
Northwest Senior Amy Bunse works on her family’s dairy farm and thinks the idea for the expanding time foreign employees can work is great for struggling farmers.
“I’ve talked to other dairy farmers that I know and they seem to be on board,” Bunse said. “We need help. It’s hard to find help. Being able to get year-round help is great for farmers.”
There is a lot of work to be done on a dairy farm, Bunse said. Training people to be up to par on the farm takes time, and duties are not easy to master.
“I know there are probably people who say that we need to give those jobs to Americans, and if Americans want to do those jobs that’s fine, but there’s a lot of Mexicans who need work,” Bunse said. “If they like the work, then I think they should be allowed to come here and work. We need good workers, so we’ll take what we can get.”