September 19, 2008
September 19, 2008 - The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and the Western Range Association joined forces this week to acknowledge their appreciation for the support and leadership of Rep. John McHugh (N.Y.). McHugh, along with co-sponsor Devin Nunes (Calif.), last week introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives specifically targeted to help sheep producers and dairy farmers across the country have access to needed workers.
"The Dairy and Sheep H-2A Visa Enhancement Act of 2008" would codify the longstanding practice that allows sheepherders access to H-2A visas and would also give dairy farmers this same access. According to the bill, sheep ranchers and dairy farmers could obtain an initial three-year visa for a worker, and the visa could be extended for additional three-year periods without requiring intervening periods of absence.
"This legislation would allow both (sheep producers and dairy farmers) a stable, legal workforce with the confidence of continuing to operate at their current capacity and plan for expansion," stated McHugh.
McHugh also said he wanted to separate the dairy worker issue from the larger immigration debate, which centers largely on what to do with undocumented immigrants already working in the United States.
The U.S. sheep industry was unable to secure domestic labor to herd range livestock in the 1950s. Thus, the provision to utilize the H-2A program for foreign sheepherders was created and proved to be a very successful program. More than one-fourth of the nation's entire sheep flock is produced by ranches that utilize sheepherders.
"The need for herders is not seasonal," explained Burdell Johnson, ASI president and Ben Elgorriage, president for Western Range. "Experience and continuity are key to successful sheep herding and the use of the H-2A program has helped to accomplish this for the sheep industry for more than 60 years."
"This bill meets the ASI policy to codify the existing sheep herder program and is an opportunity for sheep producers to educate members of Congress while requesting their co-sponsorship of the bill," commented Peter Orwick, ASI executive director. "This is a joint strategy with the dairy industry to increase the political reach, and while action will actually take place in the next Congress, now is the time for industry to organize and line up this legislation for approval."
The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the Education and Labor Committee for review. Staff contact: Peter Orwick, ext. 33