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Government Affairs: Last gasp for H-2B returning-worker exemption?

December 1, 2016 -  By

Congress has one last chance to extend the H-2B returning-worker provisions in the waning days of this session of Congress. The returning-worker provision that was included last year as part of the budget process expired at the close of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30.

The returning-worker provision exempts workers who were granted visas in any of the three previous fiscal years from inclusion in the current year 66,000 H-2B visa cap. This measure effectively increases to the total number of H-2B visas issued in a given year.

AmericanHort, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), state landscape associations and other business groups have worked all year to make permanent the expiring returning-worker exemption and on other reforms, but they have been unsuccessful in the heat of an election year.

Last Push

Now, with the current Congressional session about to close the end of this year, H-2B advocates are making one last push to extend at least the returning-worker exemption for another year. Permanent reforms are out of the question this late in the session.

This last opportunity exists because Congress has yet to pass a budget for the new fiscal year. To avoid a government shutdown, on Sept. 29 Congress passed a stopgap continuing resolution that funded the government until Dec. 9. That stopgap measure must be renewed before Dec. 9 or spending authority will end and the federal government will shut down. Few believe that Congress will allow that to happen.

Legislative Strategy

The strategy of H-2B advocates is to attach an amendment containing the returning-worker exemption to a new spending authorization bill. If successful, this effort would extend the returning-worker provision at least through the end of March, when the current draft bill is set to expire.

This year, even with the returning-worker exemption in place, the 33,000 half-year cap was reached in early March of this year. Without the returning-worker exemption in place, shortages of H-2B workers will be even more severe this year than last.

Help from President-elect Trump?

President-elect Donald Trump has used the H-2B visa program to bring in hundreds of workers for his golf resorts and hotels. During the campaign, however, he has shown little support for guest-worker programs like H-2B.

After a March primary debate, Trump issued a statement that if elected, “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.” The H-1B program, used extensively by the technology industry, allows foreign workers with specialized skills to enter the country legally and work in specific areas where workers are scarce.

So, the jury is out on whether the president-elect will be an advocate for guest-worker programs. He is unlikely to engage in the current effort to retain the returning-worker exemption. Trump gets his workers early in the fiscal year (November, December) to work in his properties in the Sunbelt, so the returning worker exemption is not likely to have much impact on his businesses.

You’re on Your Own

So, if you use the H-2B program and are concerned about its future and that of your company, it’s up to you to weigh in with your Congressman and Senators.

AmericanHort and NALP have made it easy for you to reach out to your elected representatives. Click here to reach out through the AmericanHort website and here to reach out through the NALP website and make your voice heard.

Do it now. You have a couple of days, at most!

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.

2 Comments on "Government Affairs: Last gasp for H-2B returning-worker exemption?"

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  1. The returning worker exemption is something we in the green industry need everyone’s support on so it happens for 2017, The H2 B program is huge for the industry that we all work in and if we get together we can help meet the needs of all of the companies

  2. diego l says:

    i`m looking for h2b job for the 2017 season , email me at diegolieb@gmail.com , f&b experience as j1 and looking for new areas and oportunities to grow.