MADISON, WIS. – As labor shortages in the US continue to impact multiple levels of the dairy industry, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) made public its requests for Congress to reform immigration laws, calling for changes that would reinforce the industry.

The WCMA wants to see expanded opportunities for legal immigration, as well as changes that would make it possible for more immigrants to become permanent residents and US citizens.

The organization called for Congress to take steps now – before the next legislative term begins – to expand immigration opportunities more quickly.

“The $753 billion American dairy industry relies on immigrants as vital members of its supply chain, from the farm to processing facilities and beyond,” said Steve Bechel, the WCMA’s president. “The nation’s labor crisis will worsen in the years ahead and legislative action is needed now to provide the workforce that dairy businesses must have to meet the demands of a growing global population.”

The association’s board of directors endorsed the following provisions while announcing its immigration policy platform:

• The addition of dairy manufacturing, processing and related supply chain jobs to the list of those eligible for an agricultural guestworker visa program.

• The elimination of “touchback” provisions requiring agricultural guestworkers to return to their home countries periodically, disrupting work in the US.

• The provision of temporary legal status to the spouses and minor children of non-seasonal agricultural guestworkers.

• An extension in the length of agricultural guestworker visa terms.

• At-will employment flexibility in an agricultural guestworker program that allows workers to accept any agricultural industry employment for the duration of their work authorization period.

• Incentives to aid the provision of optional employer-provided housing, transportation and other services to agricultural guestworkers.

• An expansion of opportunities for agricultural guestworkers to gain permanent residency.

• Strong legal safeguards for employers acting in good faith to determine an individual’s eligibility for employment with their organization.

Said WCMA executive director John Umhoefer: “The US dairy industry employs three million people in America today, and a trained, reliable – and sizable – workforce remains essential to its strength. Dairy manufacturers and processors look to legislative leaders to work together to deliver immigration reforms to support business growth.”