MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Immigration reform is high on President Obama’s agenda for this year.
And Wisconsin’s dairy industry is joining a national push to let foreign workers stay on farms year-round, and pursue permanent jobs in whatever fields they choose.
The American Farm Bureau and the National Milk Producers are part of a coalition that’s promoting the change. Unlike migrant workers who can get seasonal farm jobs, foreign workers on dairy farms cannot get the required visas because their jobs are permanent instead of temporary.
Milwaukee immigration lawyer Erich Straub tells the Journal Sentinel that the dairy industry desperately needs a change in the laws. He says it’s an economic issue as well as a humanitarian concern.
A UW-Madison study showed that 40 percent of Wisconsin dairy employees are immigrants, mostly from Mexico – and around half do not have the required authorization to work in the U.S.
Jim Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, says it’s uncomfortable for the immigrants and their employers.
Despite high unemployment, Laurie Fischer of the Dairy Business Association says there’s a shortage of people seeking dairy farm jobs – and her group favors some type of guest worker program. The coalition backs 11 month visas with employers who are registered with the USDA – and they would then be required to return home for 30 days.
There would be no limit on 11 month visas. And contracted employees could get 12 month work visas renewable indefinitely, as long as they return to their home countries for 30 days every three years.