Fate Of H-2B Program A Hot Topic On Capitol Hill This Week

The-CapitolThis week may be a make-or-break moment for growers who rely on the H-2B program.

The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to take up its version of the 2017 fiscal year Department of Homeland Security funding bill on Tuesday, June 14. According to Davi Bowen, Government Relations And Grassroots Representative at AmericanHort, this is the best vehicle for extending the H-2B visa cap’s returning worker exemption for next year. An H-2B returning worker amendment can be offered during the committee’s consideration of the bill. The amendment would extend, for one year, the H-2B returning worker exemption that Congress enacted last December.

Bowen says H-2B provides a critical seasonal labor force to supplement the American workforce in an array of industries, including landscaping.

“These workers must be paid at least the prevailing wage for the job in the area of employment, and while landscaping is the single largest user of H-2B visas, H-2B still represents less than 5% of landscape industry employment,” Bowen says. “Yet, the helping hands of H-2B workers are critical in the peak seasons, and they support the job security of many thousands of American workers in the sector.”

There is a way to make your voice heard. Contact any member of the House Appropriations Committee through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121. Follow up by customizing and sending an email message to your own Representative.

Last year, the committee included the H-2B returning worker exemption as a policy rider on its bill. This policy helped many landscape industry and other employers to avoid a train wreck this spring when the H-2B cap was hit. The returning worker exemption also provides an incentive for temporary, seasonal workers to respect the rule of law, and abide by the terms of their visa, returning home when the work is done.

Presenting a unified front, AmericanHort and the National Association of Landscape Professionals submitted joint written testimony for the hearing.

“The helping hands of temporary and seasonal H-2B workers lift up the job security and success of thousands upon thousands of American workers employed in industries like horticulture and landscaping,” says Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort Senior Vice President. “Rather than scapegoating a program that works, Congress should recognize its benefits, and get on with the business of modernizing America’s immigration and visa programs in the interest of the economy.”

Speaking Up On The Significance Of H-2B

One June 8, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest held a hearing titled, “The H-2B Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Examining the Effects on Americans’ Job Opportunities and Wages.” The Committee chairman, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), invited a panel of union, worker advocates, and immigration restrictionists who presented a hostile picture of the program as a threat to American workers and wages.

Fortunately, one witness, Dr. Stephen Bronars of Edgeworth Economics, expressed a sharply divergent view. Bronars, the former head of the Economics Department at the University of Texas at Austin, testified as follows:

“There should be little disagreement about the economic impact of the H-2B visa program. This program allows non-agricultural U.S. employers to alleviate some seasonal labor shortages by hiring foreign-born temporary workers. In my opinion, the H-2B program benefits small businesses, workers, and consumers in the U.S. Scaling back the H-2B program will have a deleterious effect on revenue, employment, and wages in some seasonal industries. In contrast, an increase in the number of H-2B visas that can be issued each year would benefit workers, consumers, and small businesses in the U.S.”

In recent years, Bronars has advised AmericanHort and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform on wage and other economic considerations, especially during the negotiation of S.744, the immigration bill that passed the U.S. Senate in 2013.

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