FAQs about labor and the H-2B program Email
Monday, August 24, 2020 12:00 AM

The H-2B Program and the labor shortage: FAQs

Do H-2B workers take jobs away from Americans?
No, H-2B workers actually support American jobs and the U.S. economy. The H-2B program allows landscape companies to serve more customers, retain their full-time US workers and contribute to their local economies. Seasonal guest workers help support many jobs beyond their employer. Every H-2B worker is estimated to create and sustain 4.64 American jobs, according to an American Enterprise Institute study, If the H-2B program did not exist, many seasonal businesses would go out of business--and some have. As you may have experienced firsthand, they must turn down work due to lack of labor. Without guest workers, these companies would also purchase fewer vehicles, computers, office supplies, seed, fertilizer, machinery and other items.

Why can’t companies hire American workers to fill these positions?
The vast majority of American workers are not interested in temporary seasonal jobs that are often manually intensive. In other cases, access to American labor may be limited by geography. Those affected by furloughs and high unemployment may not live in areas where the landscape labor need is greatest.

What about students? Mowing lawns used to be a good summer job for kids.
In many cases, an industry’s peak season may not allow for traditional sources of temporary labor. For example, college students are often not available in the spring or fall. These seasonal jobs may not be appropriate for high school students due to the hours or labor laws that prohibit the use of heavy machinery by minors. It's also important to remember that those kids who mow lawns for cash don't carry insurance, a business license, or have the horticulture and irrigation knowledge/experience that a landscape professional has. 

Why can’t these employers just pay American workers more money to do these jobs?
Employers who use the H-2B program are required to pay their H-2B workers and similarly employed American workers a premium wage dictated by the Department of Labor.  As mentioned above, geography and the seasonal nature of landscape work are the limiting factors in finding American workers, not wages. Further, in many cases, employers who use the program are competing against employers who choose to hire improperly documented workers and pay those workers considerably less. If wages were raised even higher, seasonal employers who use the program would not be able to sustain their businesses or their American workers.

Does the H-2B program repress wages for American workers by providing a cheaper labor source?
Hiring H-2B workers is not a cheap option. Employers are required to pay H-2B workers and similarly employed American workers the same wage. For landscape work, it is well above the minimum wage. If employers to could hire American workers to fill seasonal positions, they would gladly do so. The H-2B program is extremely costly, complicated and wrought with uncertainty due to an overly restrictive cap and a constantly changing regulatory environment. Employers turn to the H-2B program as a last resort, after extensive efforts to recruit American

Are H-2B workers eligible for any government benefits (welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, SSI, etc.)?
No. H-2B workers actually contribute to the American economy by paying taxes. Like American workers, Medicare fees are withheld from their paychecks. Unlike American workers, however, these workers cannot collect these benefits. H-2B workers help fund these programs.

What laws and safeguards are in place to protect H-2B workers from workplace abuse and employers who commit labor violations?
H-2B workers are protected by the same labor laws as American workers. H-2B employers must comply with al federal state and local labor, health and safety laws. Further, H-2B workers are issued a workers rights card in English and Spanish upon admission to the United States that outlines all of their rights and provides a toll – free number to report abuses. Employers must guarantee H-2B workers full time employment and their wage rates. They are also prohibited from collecting any type of recruitment fee from H-2B workers. Employers who violate the law are subject to civil and criminal enforcement. The fact that most H-2B workers chose to return to the same employer year after year illustrates the significant opportunities that H-2B workers enjoy.

What happens to lingering H-2B workers who overstay their visas, which exacerbates illegal immigration in America?
The program provides H-2B workers with well-paying seasonal jobs that allow them to provide for their families and still maintain their homes in their native countries. When approving H-2B visas, the U.S. Consulate confirms workers’ ties to their home countries. Workers who overstay their visas are barred from using the program in the future, a risk these workers are not willing to take since they generally return to the same employer year after year. Further, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires employers to promptly report any H-2B workers who do not report for work or who complete their work earlier in the season than anticipated.

Is the H-2B Program a Way for Large Corporations to Avoid Hiring Americans?
Most companies that use the H-2B program are small businesses, which is why the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy has repeatedly opposed burdensome H-2B regulations. Small businesses use the program despite the considerable costs associated with hiring H-2B workers, such as the higher wages dictated by the Department of Labor, the requirement to pay H-2B workers’ transportation costs to and from the United States, the program user fees and the costs and time spent on program paperwork that must be filed with four government agencies. Small businesses that use the program would gladly avoid all the costs and hassles associated with the program if they could find enough American workers. In fact, the H-2B program requires employers to first hire any able and willing American workers to fill open positions.

This information is based on a fact sheet released by the H-2B Workforce Coalition. You can download the full fact sheet here.