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Government Affairs: Last chance to extend H-2B reforms?

May 4, 2016 -  By

H-2B Workforce Coalition and our national associations, AmericanHort and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), are calling for a fly-in to Washington D.C. May 18 in attempt to persuade Congress to extend the recent hard-won reforms to the H-2B guest worker program. These reforms, signed in to law by President Obama only last December, expire with the federal budget on September 30.

Long-Sought Reforms

The provisions in the bill include many of the H-2B reforms that the green industry had been seeking for the past several years, plus some more urgent reforms needed in light of the recently issued H-2B regulations. The provisions include:

  • Exempting H-2B returning workers from the 66,000 annual cap;
  • Addressing H-2B wages and allowing the use of private wage surveys, which were not allowed under the 2015 final H-2B wage rule;
  • Clearly defining seasonal as 10 months, as opposed to the 9 months in the new interim final H-2B comprehensive rule;
  • Preventing U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing the provisions of the interim final rule (IFR) related to corresponding employment and the three-quarters guarantee; and
  • Preventing DOL from implementing the new burdensome DOL enforcement scheme in the IFR related to audits and Certifying Officer assisted recruitment.

But even with the returning worker exemption, the H-2B cap was hit in March, leaving many landscape contractors unable to get the workers they desperately needed to start the spring season.

Running out the Clock?

The short time frame in which these reforms have life has led to foot-dragging on the part of the DOL and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in implementing the new provisions. They are trying to run out the clock until September 30. This year’s processing delays, which in a normal year are widespread, have been the worst anyone has experienced.

Crank up the Pressure

The only hope is for the industry to crank up the pressure on Congress to permanently extend the reforms they passed last December and turn up the heat on the DOL and DHS to implement them in good faith. This will not happen easily.

The green industry and other businesses that use the H-2B program are facing some strong headwinds from Congress on this issue. Illegal immigration has become one of the most contentious issues in the Republican presidential primary, causing many in the Republican-controlled House to take cover.

And although the H-2B program is a legal way to bring guest workers into the country, the two issues are being conflated. Whether legal or not, many in Congress see H-2B guest workers as taking jobs from Americans.

So yes, it’s spring and it’s hard to get away, but if H-2B workers are an important component of your workforce, you can’t afford not to be in Washington on May 18. As the year wears on and the election heats up, it won’t be long before we lose any chance to get the attention of Congress on this issue. So it’s now or…who knows?

For more information on the fly-in on May 18th get in touch with Paul Mendelsohn at NALP (800) 395-2522, ext. 221, or Davi Bowen at AmericanHort (202) 789-8112.

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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