Supporting the H-2B Program & Working to Reinstate Returning Worker Exemption
On March 21st, I spent the day in Washington D.C. meeting with members of U.S. Congress and the Senate. I joined other business owners from around the state who also utilize the H-2B visa program to fill their seasonal labor needs. We were urging for immediate changes to the H-2B Visa program.
While M.J. Design was fortunate to secure their Visa Petitions for the 2017 season, there are many businesses who did not. As many of you know, seasonal workers provide U.S. businesses in our state and most others across the country with temporary help during peak seasons, which is vitally important to helping our businesses maintain viability and keeping U.S. workers employed. The H-2B program is essential to U.S. employers who are unable to find the domestic workforce to fill temporary peak-season jobs in industries including landscaping, resorts and hospitality, construction trades, amusement parks, forestry, circuses, carnivals, food concessionaires, swimming pool maintenance, golf courses, seafood processing, stone quarries, sugar refineries and other seasonal industries. Most of our seasonal businesses need H-2B workers to supplement our American workforce during the spring and summer seasons.
The H-2B program relies on well-vetted workers who come to the U.S. for seasonal employment and then return home. These workers are not immigrants. They provide an opportunity for U.S. businesses to operate at a greater capacity, retain their full-time workers and contribute to their local communities. Seasonal workers help support many upstream and downstream jobs; every H-2B worker is estimated to create and sustain 4.64 American jobs. In addition, a workable approach to legal immigration that recognizes the needs of our economy, including small businesses aids in the prevention of illegal border crossing activities and helps achieve our border security goals.
Unfortunately, the H-2B program faces an annual statutory cap of 66,000 workers that is not adequate to meet the demands of a growing economy. The statutory allocation of 33,000 visas for the first half of Fiscal Year 2017 was reached in early January and the 33,000 cap for the remainder of the fiscal year was reached on March 13. These were for employers who had April 1st or later start dates. We were in Washington to get prompt passage of cap relief for this and the next fiscal year. We were, and still are, asking for the inclusion of the Returning Worker Exemption (RWE) in the final spending bill to be passed no later than April 28th. This would allow any worker who had previously been in the States on an H-2B visa, no to be counted against the cap number. In the case of M.J. Design, this would mean that only 1 of our 18 employees would count against the cap, as 95% of our workers have returned to us for many years. Without the RWE, many employers in our state and others will be without the critical seasonal workforce they need to operate during their peak seasons. We face uncertainty every year because we never know when exactly the cap will be met and/or if we will receive our Visa Petition and secure our legal workforce.
If employers can’t secure their seasonal work force, many might fail to fulfill contracts, could be forced to turn away customers, and may, in turn, lay off U.S. workers whose jobs are supported in part by H-2B workers. In some cases, these businesses may even shut down their operations entirely because of their inability to hire H-2B employees.
On my trip, I met business owners from the Amusement and Concession industry. These are 3rd and 4th generation businesses who serve our County Fairs, Community events and Local Festivals. They have been hit by the cap and at this point don’t know if they will be able to full-fill their commitments for the summer festival season. I don’t think any of realize the impact this has not just on the businesses themselves, but on the Counties and Communities they serve. These organizations rely on the revenue that is generated from ride tickets and food sales. Rides are a huge part of many of these events and drive attendance. There could be a shortfall in funds for several organizations if the Amusement industry cannot adequately staff events or even show up.
For us and the many business owners I met on my trip, we are fighting for the same things. We need extra help during our peak seasons, and are trying to do the right thing by using established, legal avenues to hire temporary workers. The relief is urgently needed so that small and seasonal businesses in our states can continue to operate, provide American jobs, and contribute to our economy.
We met with seven of our Ohio Congressman and both Senator Portman and Senator Brown’s representatives. We were asking all of them to reach out to their colleagues in both branches of the Government to gain support of the Returning Worker Exemption. The problem is we are only talking about 66,000 jobs. That is less than 2,000 jobs per state, not a big number in the grand scheme of things, but to those of us who utilize the program and know it is our only viable option to obtain “reliable” workers, it is vital. We are continuing our fight and will be pushing each of our representatives to hear us and do their part all the way up until the final vote on April 28th. The consistent thing we heard from all our meetings is they want and need to hear from everyone. This includes our customers who we serve, vendors who we purchase material and equipment from, landlords, who apartments the workers rent. The trickle-down effect plays a major role in what happens in Washington. Like the Amusement Industry, they want to hear from the counties and local communities who could be impacted by the missed revenue. For small businesses like us, it is hard to rally all the different groups—we don’t have the large lobbying groups like big corporations or large revenue streams from Union groups who so much oppose this program. So, when we gathered in Washington, we were speaking from the heart and we can just hope and pray that they heard us and know how important implementing the Returning Worker Exemption is to our businesses and the effects it has on so many others.