ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Farmers in New York and New England will find it easier to secure a reliable labor force under sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration laws proposed in an 844-page bipartisan bill, Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.


“There’s going to be a lot of relief for our dairy farmers, our apple growers and our other specialty crop growers,” Schumer said. “I think we’re going to see our agriculture industry start growing at a much greater pace because of this bill.”


Delegations of upstate New York farmers have traveled to Washington to lobby for an expansion of the guest-worker program for agriculture. Right now, dairy farms are ineligible for the temporary visa program, called H-2A, which is only for seasonal workers. Dairy farms need workers year-round for milking.


Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy has pushed to expand a guest worker program to dairy farmers, who in Vermont rely on an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 illegal workers. He said he welcomed the progress the legislation represents in resolving what he said was long-standing unfairness of immigration policies when it comes to the needs and experiences of Vermont dairy farmers.


“The draft bill unveiled by the bipartisan group provides dairy farmers with access to lawful foreign workers where local workers are not available,” Leahy said. “Under the legalization program in the bill, many who are currently working on dairy farms in undocumented status will have the chance to legalize their status and achieve the stability for themselves and their employers that is vital to a successful farming operation.”


Schumer: Immigration bill helps farmers