Congress Denies H-2B Employers Needed Relief

The American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) expressed the growing frustration of the green industry with Congress’ inability to increase the H-2B temporary guest worker program cap. The H-2B program annually grants 66,000 work visas for employers demonstrating a seasonal need for foreign workers. In March of 2004, the cap was reached unexpectedly early, leaving many industries without access to workers needed to keep their businesses competitive.

Senate and House Republicans failed to include a bipartisan amendment to fix the problem from the omnibus spending bill passed during the recent “lame duck” session of Congress. Lawmakers did vote to provide the high tech industry with a 20,000 worker cap increase, disguised as a student exemption, under a different program. However, H-2B employers and the multi-sector Essential Worker Immigration Coalition were unable to overcome the major challenges to a bipartisan compromise amendment that would have brought much needed relief to the service industry:
- lack of support from key Republicans who made final decisions on the spending bills;
- the opposition of the anti-immigrant and “restrictionist” conservatives in Congress and vocal but misinformed constituents; and, the erroneous perception that H-2B guest workers take jobs from American workers.

“What every American needs to understand is that there has never been, nor will there ever be, an H-2B job that goes to a foreign guest worker at the expense of a U.S. worker,” stated ANLA Director of Legislative Relations, John Meredith. “Any qualified U.S. worker that applies for an H-2B job must be hired.”

H-2B offers the only legal channel for semi-skilled workers to enter and fill seasonal service sector jobs for which too few Americans apply. By failing to act, Congress has inadvertently encouraged illegal immigration by not fixing the one legal program available to employers who need to fill seasonal jobs in sectors ranging from resorts to restaurants to construction to landscape contracting and maintenance. Despite the setback, ANLA is preparing to work with the next Congress and the Bush Administration to resolve the H-2B quandary and to pursue comprehensive labor and immigration law reforms on behalf of the green industry.

“The H-2B reform is the most urgent labor concern of all service industries,” said Meredith. Because of the seasonal need standard, an H-2B worker’s visa is valid for a maximum of 10 months. Getting a worker under the program is long and tedious process that starts at the state level, moves to the US Department of Labor, then, to the Department of Homeland Security and ultimately the Department of State which issues the work visa.

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