Revised H-2A Rule Could Include Full Time Dairy Help

Bob Gray

The Department of Labor’s H-2A Program has been around for years, used by farmers across the country to obtain seasonal immigrant labor for fruit and vegetable harvesting as well as other peak workload times.  Without this program we would not have fresh fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets.



The H-2A program is heavily regulated in terms of housing, transportation and other critical needs for the workers who are in the U.S. for a short period of time… three months or so… before returning to their home countries.  Farmers must apply for the number of workers they require thorough a DOL process.  There are wage rates and other requirements that must be met as part of the employment process.

Dairy operations are not eligible to use the H-2A program because they require full-time, year around workers.

With local workers almost impossible to hire and retain, many dairy operations have resorted to hiring workers from Mexico or, more recently, Guatemala which in some cases are not properly documented.  But there is no choice if they are going to find  sufficient numbers of workers to sustain their dairy businesses.

Congress has failed to act on agricultural immigration reform, in spite the efforts of many ag organizations in Washington.  Immigration is like the “third rail” in terms of controversial issues here in Congress… touch it and you’re zapped!  Cries of amnesty if you even broach the subject of finding a way to deal with our current workforce, just absolutely brings the discussion to a halt.  And of course, all the issues on the Mexican border right now have overshadowed any real opportunities to pass constructive legislation.

Our needs for dairy are two-fold, as we’ve often discussed.

  1. We need a program for new, legally vetted, year around workers
  2. Our current workforce, which may include some undocumented workers, needs to be fixed so that employees who are not here legally can come forward, undergo background checks and once cleared, apply for work visas.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

However, all is not lost.  Over the past couple of years, USDA has been working with the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security to streamline the existing H-2A program, with support from our Northeast congressional delegations.

So, if we can’t get things down legislatively, let’s do it administratively.  The agencies have been working on revising the H-2A program and modernizing it. Most importantly in the proposed revision, dairy will have an opportunity to make the case that the H-2A program should also include full-time, year around immigrant workers as well.

It will not be easy.  We will have to document our need for this workforce and we will have to provide good information as to why local help is not available to meet our workforce needs.  To do this, dairy farmers will need to make public comments to DOL.  Our friends in the ag media will need to help.  Data and studies that are available will need to be included in our public comments.

Comments are due to the Dept. of Labor by September 24.

Your comments to DOL should focus on two important issues.

First, dairy farming is a 365 / 24 / 7 business which you can easily show based on the need for daily milking, feeding, herd management and herd health.  While there are seasonal work requirements for cropping, there is a constant workload every day on every dairy operation… which you know so well.

The second and most important part of your comments need to include they it is so difficulty to obtain local help.  In fact, that should be your main argument and the reason why you are commenting.  You do not need to go into the background on your farm talking about how many workers you have.  You should focus on the tight labor market in your county and surrounding area, a low unemployment rate, and aging population in rural counties and the labor skills that are required… not low skilled jobs!



Include advertisements you have placed in local papers and online. Talk abut your wage rates for your workers.

Here is the information you need to file your comments by regular mail or by e-mail.


Mailing address for written comments:

Adele Gagliardi

Administrator:  Office of Policy Development & Research

Employment and Training Administration

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.

Room N-5641

Washington D.C. 20210


For electronic comments by e-mail:

Type in “1205-AB89” (in quotes) in the Comment or Submission search box.

Click “Go” and follow the instructions for submitting documents.


For both methods of submission be sure to include the following:

Docket No. ETA-2019-0007 RIN 1205-AB89

Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Nonimmigrants in the U.S.


Here is a sample letter that could be used:

Dear Sir / Madam:

I am writing to comment on the Department of Labor’s proposed H-2A Modernization Proposal Rule.

My dairy operation is located in (county, state).  The local labor market is extremely tight in my community.  As a dairy producer, I need full-time, year around help to operate my (size) dairy operation.

Our county has a very low unemployment rate (supply the rate percentage) which is well below the national average.  Therefore, it is very difficult to recruit help locally.  I have advertised in local media (supply copies of ads if appropriate) and have contacted the local unemployment office as well.

The competition from businesses in our community is also an important factor since they are seeking employees as well.

We pay a wage rate of (amount per hour) that is well above the federal minimum wage.

Expanding the current H-2A program to allow dairy farmers like myself to employ legal immigrant workers on a full-time, year around basis would give me an important option in maintaining my current work force that is vital to keeping my dairy farm in business.

I appreciate the opportunity to comment.

Bob Gray represents northeast dairy farmer milk cooperatives in Washington, D.C.  He may be contacted at <> or at 703.751.0204.

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