What visa works for dairy in the USA?

Dairy Labor Visas: What Is Out There? What Might Work?

For more than 25 years, I’ve helped American dairy farmers find reliable help on their farms. At the same time, helped provide internationals with an opportunity to learn more about American dairy farming and our culture. This has been a great experience for both sides. Both the American farmer employer and the international trainee have benefitted.

It warms my heart that probably over 1000 young people from more than 40 countries have learned about how we dairy here. They have taken that knowledge home, and many have gone on to become well-known and respected figures in their own nation’s dairy industries. Many are veterinarians providing excellent care. Some have started model farms. Some are professors who teach others what they have learned. Some work in allied-industry, selling seed corn or trading hay, importing soybean or mating cows with American semen.

J-1 VISA
I’ve done this work through the J-1 visa, and now, for the last five years or so, through just a tourist visa.

But the J-1 visa is not an ideal system, for many reasons. To me, the most important reason is that the J-1 visa is designed for learning for one year, and then going home. Just as a dairy farmer feels that his trainee employee is really understanding things, the trainee must head back to his own country.

TN VISA
There is a TN visa, which allows for Mexican workers to come into the USA. This is a good option, but is only for Mexico (or Canada). (Global Cow is starting to work with this visa, and establishing connections with the right universities that provide the right documentation to apply for the TN visa.)

H-1B VISA
We’ve helped a few people work with the H1-B visa. This does allow for an American employer to hire a person with a specific skill set, training and knowledge, provided the employer can’t find that person in the USA. It also allows for the employee to bring his family, and to stay on for year. The H-1B visa holder may even eventually apply for a green card.

But there is a cap on the H-1B, a limit to the amount of people who can come in. Typically, this visa candidate holds a PhD or masters’ degree, at least a bachelors’, and the job needs to require this education. Most dairy farm work requires experience and “cow knowledge”. This is not something that is necessarily learned in a college program. It is not a surprise that it’s difficult to have this visa approved for most dairy farm jobs.

H-2A VISA
The other “agricultural visa” that we all hear about does not work at all for almost all dairies: the H2-A. This one requires that you hire a seasonal worker. Conventional American dairying is just not, by definition, “seasonal”.

IS THERE NEED?
Because Global Cow has worked with international trainees for so long, I suppose, there are dairy farmers who call me. I hear from large dairies, little dairies, and daires in between. I hear from those in the Midwest, in the Southeast, in the West, in the South, in the Northeast. No region is immune to the same question: “What sort of employee can you help me find?” Labor is an issue for us in the dairy industry, even when we are paying well and treating employees with the respect and dignity they deserve. Dairy farmers want to hire legal help.

DO PEOPLE WANT TO COME?
Of course, qualified people who would like to come into work here also call Global Cow. At least three times a week, I receive emails to “please help me find work in the dairy industry in the USA”. These folks are excited about working in an industry like ours. They want to utilize what they’ve learned, and they want to make a positive difference on an American dairy.

But, if they are not from Mexico (and even if they are from Mexico, but have not completed the right education), they can’t typically get here.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
We need a different visa, one which allows people to come into the USA legally, to do honest work they love, in a good profession.

Happily, this visa, called H-2C, is proposed in a bill that is currently a part of a larger immigration issue. Although the regular press covers the “dreamers” much more heavily then the new H-2C visa, there is a very real chance that we will finally see this visa option become a reality.

SPEAK UP
If this matters to you, make sure you speak up! Reach out to your representatives and to your senators, let them know what you think. I’ve found the Vermont delegation surprisingly receptive, and interested. But it takes all of us, together, to make a difference.

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