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Government Affairs: Is H-2B reform stuck in a time loop?

March 6, 2019 -  By
Photo: iStock.com/OGphoto

Photo: iStock.com/OGphoto

For those of you who have seen the Bill Murray classic movie, “Groundhog Day,” the H-2B saga seems reminiscent.

As part of the deal to end the partial shutdown of the federal government, H-2B advocates in Washington secured language in the bipartisan compromise appropriations bill to allow the secretary of homeland security, in consultation with the secretary of labor, to increase the number of H-2B visas from the statutory 66,000 to as many as 132,000.

Rather than the more comprehensive, yet moderate, reforms that seemed within our grasp a few months ago, the government shutdown and political bickering about “the wall” made this more modest accomplishment seem Herculean.

Groundhog Day
So, we are like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” when his alarm goes off each morning in Punxsutawney, Pa., and he finds himself living Feb. 2 all over again.

In this political environment, being where you were two years ago can seem like a major victory. The language included in the bill is like that included in the past two fiscal years. This fell short of the broader H-2B language that advocates at AmericanHort and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) had pushed for.

Attention turns to DHS and DOL
Attention now turns to convincing the secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) to make the additional visas available in time for the spring season. In past years, the decision to allocate additional visas under this authority was too little and too late. Last year, additional visas were not available until June, and only 15,000 of the potential 66,000 were released.

Last week, AmericanHort, NALP and other H-2B advocates sent a letter to the secretaries of homeland security and labor urging them to allocate the maximum number of visas allowed under the new law as quickly as possible.

How you can help
You can help by contacting your congressmen and senators and urging them to call upon the secretaries of homeland security and labor to expedite the decision to quickly allocate more visas.

You should also thank your association advocates, AmericanHort and NALP, and the many industry volunteers who have made their way to Washington, D.C., in the past several months to advocate for H-2B reform. Their diligent work against overwhelming odds got the job done.

We get to do this again next year
Unfortunately, since this language was included in a fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill, the authority to increase the number of visas expires Sept. 30, 2019. The authority to increase the number of visas will have to be renewed next fiscal year.

Like the venerable New York Yankees/Mets catcher and manager Yogi Berra once said, “This is like déjà vu all over again!”

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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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