H-2B users, advocates urge action for relief

April 13, 2017 -  By

visa-applicationIt’s a pivotal juncture for the H-2B guest-worker visa program—for 2017 and beyond.

“April is a critical month for H-2B,” said Paul Mendelsohn, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), in a blog post. To improve the H-2B process, NALP and other advocates of the program are targeting a continuing resolution (CR) that Congress passed in December to authorize an extension of spending levels approved for last year. Congress must act before the CR expires on April 28 to avoid a government shutdown, he said.

The H-2B program allows 66,000 noncitizens to work in the U.S. per year on a temporary basis. Half of those workers are allowed in the first half of the fiscal year (October through March) and half are allowed in the second half (April through September). In some years, Congress allows returning workers to be exempt from the 66,000 cap, which raises the total number of visas permitted.

Much of the problem this year, say H-2B advocates, is the lack of a returning-worker exemption. Congress approved it last year and in other years, but it doesn’t have the go-ahead this year.

The landscaping industry is the largest user of H-2B, but the program is also used by the hospitality industry, seafood processors, amusement parks and others.

“You have probably 2/3 of people who are applying for April 1 start dates who aren’t going to get any workers unless we get a returning-worker exemption in April when Congress votes,” said Robert Kershaw, an Austin, Texas-based attorney who represents companies that use the H-2B guest-worker visa program to fill their seasonal labor needs.

Choate USA in Carrollton, Texas, is one company that’s getting “caught in the cap,” said CEO Putt Choate. The landscape construction and irrigation company requested 150 H-2B workers this year, and it will receive only 70 of those through a visa transfer process.

“Most of our workers every year are returning workers, so we’ve never had any problem getting them because they’re pretty much the same group of guys who don’t count against the cap,” he said. That’s not the case this year, Choate said, noting he is lucky to have the 70 transfer workers who have time left on their visas.

“If I wasn’t able to do that, I would have been in very bad shape,” he said. “I’m still 80 workers short, so now the results are horrible, but they would have been catastrophic.”

H-2B advocates say the program’s users need to put pressure on their lawmakers now in a last-ditch effort to get a short-term fix this year. A permanent solution to the program’s perennial problems would be ideal, but it’s not likely at this point, Kershaw said.

“I would say the No. 1 thing is reaching out to your senators and representatives to ask for support on the returning-worker exemption and any bill or letter that supports the H-2B program,” said Patrick Wilson, government relations and account manager for PES, a Frisco, Texas-based H-2B recruiting firm. “People reaching out, especially constituents, is going to make a huge impact. (You) can call, send emails, tweet—we’re trying to get the hashtag #SAVEH2B trending, and we’re having some success.”

Wilson also encourages users and all industry members to sign a “Save H-2B” petition at Change.org.

“It impacts the landscaping industry all around, including companies that don’t use H-2B, and it affects American workers, too,” he said. “They’re going to be out of a job if their companies lose contracts due to lack of workers and such.”

NALP is also calling on industry members to do the following:

  • Contact your representative and ask him or her to support an extension of the returning-worker exemption in any 2017 fiscal measures that come before the House.
  • Contact your two senators and ask them to cosponsor the Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act, S. 792, which was introduced by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Angus King (I-ME), John Thune (R-SD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Rounds (R-SD), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mark Warner (D-VA).
  • Tweet at your elected officials and encourage them to pass H-2B cap relief immediately. You can also thank your Senators if they are cosponsors of S. 792 or H.R. 1627 or encourage them to cosponsor these bills if they have not yet done so.
  • Plan to attend the H-2B Workforce Coalition Fly-In on April 26. Those who are interested in attending should contact NALP’s Mendelsohn at Paul@landscapeprofessionals.org.

Wilson emphasizes how important it is to communicate about the program with Congress members.

“Nothing in this program happens without Congressional approval,” he said. “That’s what a lot of people need to understand and why it’s important to make a long-lasting relationship with your Congressmen.”

Photo: Nick Youngson

Marisa Palmieri

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

1 Comment on "H-2B users, advocates urge action for relief"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Mark Pyle says:

    It’s time to ween yourselves from H-2B workers. I suppose that welfare benefits are so great for Americans that working for moderate wages can’t compete. It’s time to ween ourselves from that system as well.