The meat and poultry industry faces unique challenges in obtaining semi-skilled workers. A new bill introduce in the Senate looks to create a pilot system to help address some of the gaps that currently exists between temporary visa programs for seasonal workers and the H-1B visa program for highly skilled immigrants.
Sen. Jeff Flake. (R., Ariz.) introduced the Willing Workers & Willing Employers Act, a 10-year-long pilot guest worker program that would admit workers to the U.S. who have less than a bachelor’s degree to do year-round, non-farm work.
The bill also creates a flexible cap for registered positions ranging from 65,000 to 85,000 a year to match economic demand. It sets strict requirements that employers must seek an available U.S. worker before utilizing a guest worker under this program.
Flake said the bill would give employers and employees greater portability by enabling workers to change jobs and work for any employer who has tested the labor market and proved that it is unable to hire an American worker for the position.
During the pilot program, the bill would require a study to determine the effects of the program on wages, employment, economic growth, welfare use and government services to determine if the program should be continued.
The National Turkey Federation (NTF) said the bill “creates a commonsense pilot program that allows the U.S. government to ensure that workers and employers are utilizing the system as it was intended, that visa holders are complying with its rules and that the program is operating in a way that helps U.S. workers and the economy.”
NTF explained that there are very few permanent visas for less-skilled workers. Existing temporary programs only apply to seasonal labor, effectively excluding workers at year-round meat and poultry plants. NTF said this legislation is a step forward, helping the turkey industry gain access to legal workers within the pool of general labor (semi-skilled) through a visa program that, if implemented correctly, could address the needs of the meat and poultry industry.
NTF president Joel Brandenberger said, “There is currently no one bill that is a ‘silver bullet’; however, Sen. Flake’s bill will go a long way to fixing our broken immigration system. Ensuring the legal hiring of enough qualified workers is critical to the turkey industry and the long-term success of the U.S. economy.”
Read more on agricultural labor concerns in our story, Labor woes hitting ag from all directions.