In light of the detrimental effects of COVID-19 on the U.S. workforce and supply chain, many lawmakers and nonprofit groups are focusing on recruiting migrant workers into the agricultural sector.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the 2021 Farm Workforce Modernization Act could guarantee legal residency for migrant farm workers.
“If passed, the law would establish a temporary certified farm worker status for undocumented farm workers who meet specific requirements, such as previous farm work experience and continued presence in the United States,” he said. said Andrew Walchuk, staff attorney for the Washington-based nonprofit Farmworker Justice. in Wisconsin State Journal.
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According to the House of Representatives, in order for a migrant worker to qualify for certified agricultural worker status, they must pass a background check. Applicants must also prove that they have worked in agriculture for at least 180 days in the past two years.
Morning AgClips, an agricultural news site, said the Farm Workforce Modernization Act was passed by the House of Representatives but not passed by the Senate.
The shortage of agricultural labor was a problem before the pandemic, but the shortage has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Center for Integrated Farming Systems researcher Michelle Miller said there are several drivers of labor shortages. The first is a rapid exodus of people living in rural areas.
“There has been this movement of people in urban areas for a very long time and it started slowly, but it just got faster and faster,” Miller said.
Miller also said poor working conditions deter people from working on farms. Exposure to pesticides is one of the top concerns Miller has heard from farm workers. Another important item is hazardous equipment.
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In Wisconsin, where 40% of dairy workers are migrants, the bill could have a big impact on the state’s economy. The Wisconsin State Journal said about 90% of the state’s migrant dairy workers are undocumented.
According to Farm Progress, Wisconsin’s dependence on migrant labor poses certain legal and economic challenges. “Some immigrant farm workers do not have legal permission to work and live in the United States, which puts both employers and employees at increased risk, threatening agricultural investments,” Farm Progress said.
According to the US Department of Labor, when farmers anticipate a shortage of farm labor, they can bring in foreign workers under the H-2A program.
In an episode of the Dairy Stream Podcast, hosted on Morning AgClips, labor lawyer Brandon Davis explains how the program works and helps ease tensions over the labor shortage.
“We just don’t have enough manpower to complete the farm-to-fork process, so the H-2A program, for over 30 maybe 40 years now, has given farmers a solution. who do a good job in this country, ”Davis said. on the podcast.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act extends the H-2A program. Under the new legislation, David said the program is expected to reach more sectors of the agricultural sector, such as dairy.
In a WPR podcast, Vox reporter Nicole Narea said the Modernization Act also allows migrant workers to apply for U.S. citizenship.
“The bill could legalize up to 1.2 million immigrants who are currently working in the agricultural industry and who do not have legal status, or about half of the agricultural workforce,” he said. Narea said.
Despite the political divide in recent immigration debates, 30 House Republicans backed the bill. Narea explained that representatives from rural districts are feeling the effects of the massive labor shortage in the agricultural sector.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Brandon Davis said passing the Modernization Act requires balancing competing interests. He said the final bill will have to satisfy the interests of government, agribusiness, American citizens, and workers themselves.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Representative Ron Kind (D-LaCrosse) was the only Wisconsin lawmaker to support the Home Modernization Act.
Representative Kind said the bill would help stabilize the farm workforce as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Miller said cultural issues have created a setback against increasing immigration to rural areas. She said language barriers and religious differences between rural Americans and immigrant workers often created tensions in rural towns.
Davis said much of the ongoing legislative debate surrounding the law has been about how wages should be set for migrant workers.
“We just want to serve the farms in the United States without harming American workers looking for jobs,” Davis said.