Dairy farming is a labor-intensive industry. Technology has overtaken most U.S. dairy farms, but farmers still struggle to find laborers and skilled workers to care for milk cows.

There is often a shortage of native workers, which makes many farmers seek out the possibility of using immigrant laborers to fill their dairy’s growing workforce needs.

Unfortunately, the popular H-2A visa program has been cut off to the dairy industry for many farm tasks because many dairy functions, such as milking cows, are year-round needs. Dairy farmers have been left with access only to foreign workers via the TN visa and the PERM programs.

Currently, immigrant labor accounts for 51% of all dairy laborers, and the dairies that employ immigrant labor produce 79% of the U.S. milk supply, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.

H-2A visas for dairy workers

Many operations are deemed year-round for dairy farms. However, job functions that are seasonal could qualify use of the H-2A program. Examples of seasonal functions are construction on-farm, moving cows, increased labor need or milk production during calving season, and/or snow removal on a farm.

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It is important to work with a knowledgeable attorney who can guide you on what work can and cannot be done with a seasonal worker.

TN visas for careers in dairy industry

The TN visa is designed for professionals from Mexico and Canada who have specific degrees that apply to job opportunities in the U.S. The visa lasts for three years and can then be renewed in increments thereafter with no limit on renewal. There is also no annual cap on TN visas that can be issued.

The minimum required degree for a TN visa applicant is a bachelor’s degree. Dairy scientists and veterinarians will often obtain a TN visa to work on a dairy in the U.S.

A dairy farmer who wants to use the TN visa program must show that they need a professional to fill their job opening. The process for qualification can be complex, so many dairy operations hire an attorney for the process. The dairy operation can either work directly with TN visa applicants or get recruitment assistance in finding people in Mexico or Canada who are qualified for the role. The TN visa applicant must be given an offer of employment to begin the process.

Positions often filled in the dairy industry by a TN visa holder include:

  • Veterinarian
  • Dairy scientist
  • Animal breeder
  • Animal scientists

The TN visa application process varies significantly between Mexico and Canada.

Canadian TN visa requirements

Canadians are free to travel into the U.S. They can easily apply for a TN visa at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol ports of entry by showing proof of Canadian citizenship and a letter from a prospective dairy employer.

Mexican TN visa requirements

Citizens of Mexico seeking a TN visa must provide the following:

  • Provide a valid passport

  • Pay an applicant fee

  • Include a photo

  • Have an employment contract or letter of employment from a dairy located in the U.S. that explains the dairy’s needs and the job function of the applicant.

  • Work experience documentation and credentials

  • Interview

It is critical to partner with recruiters who understand the legal requirements necessary for a successful TN petition. The applicant’s degree and coursework are all important factors in the success of an application.

If an extension is required, then the applicant will re-apply in the same manner as outlined above or through a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) application for renewal.

PERM visas for dairy workers

The Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) visa is a system that has been developed to help a foreign national obtain a labor certification. It is considered the first step toward an immigrant visa (green card). Dairy farmers are allowed to file for green card sponsorship because most milking positions are year-round work and not seasonal.

The application process involves the employer filing to the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) to certify the work and position after undergoing a statutorily mandated recruitment campaign.

Steps consist of the following:

1. Filing Prevailing Wage Determination (PWD)

2. Advertisement

3. Quiet Period

4. PERM Labor Certification

5. Immigrant Visa Petition I-140

6. Adjustment of Status Application I-485 or Consular Processing (depending on location and status of applicant)

The certification process does require that the employer seek qualified U.S. applicants for the available position, and they must also show they are offering prevailing wages for the position in the particular geographic location. The advertising and recruitment process are extremely strict.

If everything goes smoothly and the process gains approval, then there is often a wait for the green card quote number – the wait might span months to years. Once the quota number is available, then the applicant is either processed at a consulate in their country or an adjustment of status is filed in the U.S. Permanent resident status is given, and a green card is issued once the approval is obtained. This process also allows a foreign national to bring close family members including spouses and unmarried children under 21.

All laborers must meet the employment position’s minimum education and experience requirements. The employee must provide letters from previous employers outlining their verifiable experience. end mark

PHOTO: Getty images.

If you own a dairy farm and you are seeking to fill positions in the milk industry, contact the specialists at AW Labor Solutions. They help farms successfully staff their labor shortages using immigrant-based talent solutions and work in tandem with our sister law firm, Farmer Law PC.

Natalie Farmer is an accomplished immigration attorney, focused on the value of a diversified workforce, providing aid to ag businesses, by way of the U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Justice, international consulates and all of the federal regulatory bottlenecks that exist. Her passion is helping ag businesses acquire the labor they need while maintaining local, state and federal regulatory compliance, thus empowering businesses to thrive.

Natalie Farmer
  • Natalie Farmer

  • Immigration Attorney