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Another go-round for H-2B: A permanent fix for H-2B remains elusive

September 4, 2019 -  By
Photo: iStock.com/Matt Anderson

As the end of the federal fiscal year approaches, H-2B program advocates are working to convince Congress to increase the number of visas for the next fiscal year. (Photo: iStock.com/Matt Anderson)

While the H-2B guest worker program used by many landscape contractors had its best year since 2008, program advocates find themselves once again engaged in the annual battle to convince Congress to allocate more visas to the scant 66,000 visas locked into the enabling statute.

Little passes Congress

Because little legislation has passed Congress to be sent on to the president over the past several sessions, program advocates such as AmericanHort and the National Association of Landscape Professionals look to “must pass” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bills to increase the number of visas available to bring seasonal guest workers into the country.

This approach has been successful in the past several years, but since it is tied to annual appropriations bills, it expires at the end of the federal fiscal year — Sept. 30 — and must be renewed for the next fiscal year.

Increase of 30,000 visas this year

For this fiscal year, the Secretary of Homeland Security had authority to increase the number of visas available by about double, although the secretary only allocated an additional 30,000 above the statutory limit.

As the end of the federal fiscal year approaches this month, program advocates are working hard to convince Congress to include language in must-pass appropriations bills to increase to number of visas available for next fiscal year, as well as several other H-2B program improvements.

House Appropriations committee passes authorization for additional visas

In June 2019, the House Appropriations committee passed a DHS appropriations bill that would authorize an additional 69,320 visas, in addition to the statutorily authorized 66,000. The bill also contains language that the secretary of DHS “shall” release the additional visas, rather than “may” as in the current authorization, if the secretary finds that the needs of seasonal businesses cannot be met with American workers.

House leadership has not yet decided if it will bring this bill to the floor for a vote by the full House due to continuing controversy about border wall funding, migrant detention and other white-hot immigration issues.

Now is the time to act

Congress will be returning from its August recess after the Labor Day holiday. Now is the time for you to make your voice heard if the H-2B program is an important source of workers for your landscape contracting business. Call your congressperson and your senators, tell them your company’s story and ask that they reauthorize increasing the H-2B cap as included in the DHS appropriations bill.

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About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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