H-2B Cap Hit: Expiring Exemption Last Hope for Employees

Immigration officials have announced that the numerical limitation restricting the H-2B visa program for the first half of fiscal year 2006 has been exhausted. This program is the only avenue available to employers who need to hire short-term non- and semi-skilled workers to augment their domestic workforce when no domestic workers are available. “Normally, this program should be safety-net for when employers can’t find enough American workers,” stated Joanna Hedvall, associate director of liaison and information for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), “but it is now obvious the H-2B program needs its own safety-net just to function.”

Right now, the only option U.S. employers will be able to utilize for the H-2B program is a limited one-year exemption from the cap for returning H-2B workers. “This band-aid exemption is the only thing that will keep some employers afloat this year,” points out John Meredith, vice president of government relations for the Federation of Employers and Workers of America (FEWA). “Hitting the cap this early into the new fiscal year demonstrates just how valuable the returning worker exemption is for seasonal employers.”

Now that the exemption for returning workers is set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2006, employers who rely on H-2B workers to augment their domestic workforce during times of peak demand will have to secure Congressional help to keep their businesses open. “The one-year exemption forces businesses to continually fight to keep their doors open and keep their year-round American workers employed,” Brendan Flanagan, director of legislative affairs for the National Restaurant Association “a lasting exemption would be a start in the right direction. At least then businesses would know that they could keep their doors open from year to year.”

H-2B workers are utilized in numerous industries across the nation. They include restaurant, landscape, food production and hotel service workers.

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