Individual states will be allowed to tailor a guest worker program that meets their own specific workforce needs under a plan being introduced by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. The Oshkosh Republican, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, unveiled the 'State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017' on May 3. He said the measure is necessary to help sectors of the economy, such as the dairy industry, by filling jobs positions that are often difficult to place in certain parts of the country.

"We have a shortage of workers in all different areas of the economy. We need to recognize that a one-size-fits-all federal model for visas or guest workers doesn't work," Johnson said. "Let the states manage the visas, allocate them to the industries that need the workers, set prevailing wage rates. I think states would do a better job of protecting their state workers--American workers--as well as making sure their industries have the people they need to be able to grow."

Rep. Ken Buck from Colorado plans to introduce an identical version of the bill in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the American Dairy Coalition applauded the effort. CEO Laurie Fischer says policies like this are desperately needed to secure workers to milk cows and harvest crops.

"For years, farmers have tried to hire domestic workers, but they are simply not attracted to these jobs, even though starting pay has increased to $13.00 to $15.00 an hour plus benefit packages," Fischer said. "It is critical for the dairy industry to have a means to utilize a legal workforce since current immigration visa programs are not available for dairy farms."

Last month, Congressman Sean Duffy introduced a bill that would expand the H-2A worker program to benefit Wisconsin's dairy farmers. His measure is called the Defending the Agricultural Industry's Requirements Year-round Act of 2017 or 'DAIRY Act,' which modifies the existing immigration program to allow dairy workers to hold a visa for 18 months, thus giving state dairy producers stability within their workforce.

This article was originally published by Wisconsin Ag Connection.