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Welch, Owens Propose Guest Visas For Dairy Workers

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Melody Bodette
/
VPR

Congressman Peter Welch and New York Congressman Bill Owens say they want to use immigration reform to help dairy farmers.

They appeared at a news conference on Tuesday to announce a bill that would permit dairy farm workers to qualify in the federal guest worker visa program.

They don't currently qualify under most immigration work programs, so dairy farms employ hundreds who are in the country illegally.

Welch says the proposal would benefit farmers and their workers.

"What it would do is give the farmers some clarity and some continuity. And it would give the guest workers some security that it was on the up and up," Welch said. 

The proposal would allow foreign workers to get a visa to work on a farm for three years. And they would be able to renew the visa for another three-year period.

Owens says farms in both New York and Vermont rely on foreign workers to milk the cows. And he says immigration law needs to reflect that dependence.

"We likely are going to get immigration reform, some form of legislation. We want to make sure that farm labor is included in that. I've made it very clear that I won't vote for immigration reform that does not include a farm labor piece," Owens said. 

Both congressmen say they're optimistic that an immigration overhaul will emerge from Congress.

And they say they're equally hopeful that farm labor will be part of it because Senator Patrick Leahy is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and supports their approach.