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PLNA e-News: Protecting Values In the Nation

H-2B Program Could Expand Under Recent Legislation

Monday, April 2, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
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WorkersWASHINGTON, D.C. - Taking advantage of the “must-pass” omnibus FY 2018-19 federal spending bill, PLNA, AmericanHort and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) managed to get an extension of the authority for the Homeland Security Secretary to increase the 66,000 statutory cap on H-2B visas. This provision is like the one that was included in last year’s spending bill.

The increase in visas is not automatic. Under the provision, the Homeland Security Secretary must determine, in consultation with the Labor Secretary, that there is economic need. If the Secretary determines that there is need, she has the authority to increase the cap up to the number of visas issued in 2007, or about 128,000.

Last year, the process of determining need and issuing an increase in the cap took then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly until July. Since the authority expires at the end of the fiscal year, September 30, there was little time left on the clock to save the season for most landscape contractors needing workers. In addition, the increase was only for an additional 15,000 visas.

Our attention must now focus on encouraging the Homeland Security Secretary to speed up the process for increasing the available visas.

We are hopeful that, having gone through the process last year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be able to do the coordination with the Labor Department and issue the increase in a more timely manner this time around.

The H-2B visa cap of 66,00 is split in half, with the first tranche of 33,000 allocated to the first half of the federal fiscal year and the other 33,000 for the second half. Demand is so great for H-2B workers that DHS announced on December 21 that it had reached the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the first half of this year, less than 2 ½ months into the fiscal year.

On February 21, 2018, DHS began receiving H-2B visa applications for the second half of fiscal year 2018. In five days, DHS received applications from businesses for 47,000 visas for the 33,000 available visas. The available visas were assigned randomly by DHS to applicants.

Here are our next steps:

First, we need to muster our efforts to convince the Homeland Security Secretary to raise the cap under the authority just given to her. A number of Senators have drafted a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging her to quickly raise the cap. Call your Senator and urge them to call Secretary Nielsen.

Second, call your Senator and let them know the harm that this guest worker situation is having on your business. Ask them to urge their leadership to move on the “Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2017” (S. 792). This bill would provide the permanent cap relief our industry needs. The bill has been sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee since last March, 2017 with no action.

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