Farm Worker Program Could Be Answer to Farm Labor Problem

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Running a farm is hard work, and finding people to work on the farm is even harder.

That's why North Country farmers like Doug Shelmidine say they support a new program that would allow foreign workers to be employed on farms for three-year renewable terms.

It is a lot different than the current program. Called an H-2A visa. It only allows a foreign worker a year in the U.S.. It's designed for seasonal workers who do things like pick apples once a year. Not for those who milk cows every day. The new "w-visa" program is in the Immigration Bill passed by the Senate last month. Shelmidine says it's a step in the right direction, considering the challenges farmers face hiring local workers.

"The fact that there aren't enough workers to fill the positions means that employers have had to rely on what may be questionably documented workers that are willing to work and do the jobs", said Shelmidine.

Since the legal status of immigrant workers is often unclear, lawmakers hope the new program would give farmers the certainty they need to avoid a halt in production.

"I think on a broader perspective nationally, people have to understand that if we don't solve the farm labor crisis, we are likely to have a food crisis, because we will not be able to produce it," said Congressman Bill Owens, D-21.

In the bill, undocumented immigrants currently working on farms would also be eligible for immigrant status in the form of a blue card, if they fulfill a certain number of hours. If the bill makes it through the House of Representatives, both programs could go into effect as early as 2015.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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