The H-2B visa program has become a casualty in the larger war over immigration, with many landscaping businesses caught in the middle. The H-2B visa program determines how many temporary non-agricultural workers can work in the US every year. The current cap of 66,000 was temporarily increased to 81,000, and roughly half of them are landscapers.
In 2016, Congress revoked a provision of immigration law which significantly reduced the effective number of H-2B workers. In previous years, the law provided an exemption for returning workers. They could return to their employers each year without being counted against the cap. Removing that provision effectively reduced the number of H-2B workers from about 350,000 down to 81,000 for 2018.
Under the program, employers must show they first tried recruiting American workers. But finding people willing to do demanding work for relatively low wages is getting harder and harder. Owners of landscaping businesses say their biggest challenge is finding Americans willing to put in long hours outdoors in the middle of summer. The lowest national unemployment rate since December 2000 has made this prospect even more challenging.
In 2017, landscaping and groundskeeping workers accounted for 45% of total H-2B visas, up 15% from 2016. According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals, about 25% of their member’s businesses rely on the H-2B visa program. “Without cap-relief, our constituents who depend on seasonal workers face difficult decisions that may include laying off full-time American workers or going out of business,” said Paul Mendelsohn, vice president of government affairs for NALP.1
There are countless stories of companies that attempt to hire U.S. citizens, before going through the expensive process of documenting and applying for H-2B visas. The significant labor shortage affecting the landscape management industry that hasn’t been addressed with the U.S. labor pool is finally being recognized.
A temporary 15,000 bump provided by the Department of Homeland Security increased the number of H-2B visas to 81,000 for 2018. Temporary relief was given, as the lower limit was actually harming American businesses 2.
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- NALP calls for landscapers to contact Congress about H-2B, February 28, 2018
- The Hill: Homeland Security announces 15,000 additional seasonal visas for companies at risk of failure, May 25, 2018