TCIA, alongside the H-2B Workforce Coalition, has ramped up its advocacy efforts to make the H-2B visa program more accessible and reliable for its members. Many employers in the tree care industry depend on the H-2B visa program to provide them with temporary guest workers to meet seasonal demand. The current H-2B system, however, does not adequately address the needs of small and seasonal businesses. Therefore, TCIA and the H-2B Workforce Coalition are working together to advocate for positive changes to the H-2B program.
To utilize the program, employers must certify that they cannot find U.S. workers capable of performing the job, and that granting the visa will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. As such, the H-2B visa program significantly benefits all workers, both the nonimmigrants paying U.S. taxes to benefit the economy and American workers in year-round positions who benefit from the stability seasonal workers provide during peak seasons.
Each year, however, the current cap of 66,000 (or 33,000 per half-year) H-2B visas that are granted to seasonal workers do not meet the high demand of small and seasonal businesses. For the past several years, the cap has been filled so quickly that many companies are left without an adequate workforce for their peak seasons. In the current fiscal year 2020 (FY20), the 33,000 half-year cap was reached on November 15, 2019, marking the earliest date in the program’s history that the cap was reached.
Given this unprecedented demand, TCIA participated in the H-2B Workforce Coalition’s Legislative Hill Day in November 2019 to advocate for greater cap relief and H-2B visa program reform in general. The coalition met with members of Congress, asking them to sign onto a letter urging party leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to support adding H-2B cap-relief and reform provisions into spending bills Congress must pass to keep the federal government funded.
Those efforts were successful, and H-2B visa cap relief was provided in legislation (H.R. 3055) that temporarily funded the government through December 20. Specifically, the bill grants authority to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to process 34,716 visas in addition to the annual cap of 66,000. President Trump signed this bill into law on November 21, authorizing DHS to begin processing the additional visas.
To impress the urgency of the matter, TCIA joined in signing an H-2B Workforce Coalition letter urging Chad Wolf, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, to immediately resume processing visas so that small and seasonal businesses can meet their workforce demands. TCIA and the H-2B Workforce Coalition now must wait to see if and when any action will be taken by DHS to continue processing H-2B visas under this new directive.
Basil Thomson is an associate at Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.