Congress Denies H-2B Relief
The American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) recently expressed a growing frustration after Congress was unable 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 2004, the cap was reached unexpectedly early, leaving many industries without access to workers needed to keep their businesses competitive.
Senate and House Republicans did not include a bipartisan amendment to help remedy the quickly reached capped 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, according to ANLA. 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 green and many other service industries. According to ANLA the following were some of the reasons why the cap was not increased:
- 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 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 who 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, according to ANLA. 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, also according to ANLA. 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 a long and tedious process that starts at the state level, moves to the U.S. Department of Labor, then, to the Department of Homeland Security and ultimately the Department of State, which issues the work visa. For more information contact John Meredith at (202) 789-2900 or [email protected]
In other ANLA news, The American Standard for Nursery Stock, The Standard, is now available as a new “field-friendly” print publication from ANLA. The Standard, ANLA’s most popular publication, is now easy and convenient for industry professionals to bring with them on job sites. The water- and tear-proof pages in the sturdy three-ring binder hold up against dirt, rain and other field conditions. Since July 2004, The Standard has been, and will continue to be, available free of charge as an electronic file at www.anla.org.
The Standard was originated in 1923, when ANLA began maintaining development of a standardized system of sizing and describing plants used in nursery stock transactions. ANLA’s Horticultural Standards Committee facilitates the development and vision of this publication for the benefit of the entire industry. Approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on May 12, 2004, the revised Standard is an essential reference for anyone in the green industry who specifies, grows, distributes, buys or installs nursery stock.