H-2B Workforce Coalition Update for May 9, 2018 Email
Written by Cherie Courtade   
Wednesday, May 09, 2018 12:00 AM

H-2B visa program update

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee held a hearing on the FY2019 Budget Request for the Department of Homeland Security. The hearing had only one panel and witness, the Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary, U.S. DHS. During the hearing, two questions were put forth regarding H-2B issues.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) had very strong words about the H-2B program’s role in meeting Alaska’s workforce demands. She cited a recent letter the Alaska delegation sent to DHS petitioning the Department to set a high cap number. She also stressed the deadline for receiving an answer to that letter within the next week or so, due to the work deadlines of Alaskan businesses. She stated, “We cannot control when the fish come. This is a priority for us.” Murkowski concluded by lamenting the position Alaska had been put in the previous year and hoped that the state’s businesses would not suffer again. She asked for clarification on whether or not DHS would provide any relief. 

In response, Nielsen explained that the decision about additional H-2B visas is currently “making its way through the interagency process” and that a decision will be made shortly. She cited the law’s requirement for consultation with DOL.  Nielsen added that the appropriations cycle makes it very difficult for any DHS decision to be reached in a timely manner, or to correspond with the seasonality of H-2B program. She staunchly requested that Congress set a cap because the interagency decision-making process is largely unable to conform to the needs of seasonal business. Nielsen pleaded the Senators to address the cap in the law and not through regulatory decision-making.

The final question on H-2B came from Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) who also underscored the importance of H-2B to her state. With unemployment in New Hampshire at 2.6%, the second lowest in the country, she discussed how businesses are unable to access an adequate workforce. As a result, the local restaurant and tourism industries are struggling to stay open for the whole week, or even stay in business. Shaheen told the story of one local business who relies on the same workers coming from Jamaica coming every year. These workers had bank accounts and drivers licenses and always returned home after the season was over. She asked the Secretary what she should tell businesses, like these, when they call desperate for an answer on H-2B.

Nielsen again reiterated her staunch belief that this is an issue best handled by Congress.  She added that regulatory interagency process makes it nearly impossible for the DHS to make a timely decision and that the system is broken. She also made clear that is not the DHS’s desire to put American industry out of business; the timing is simply a reality of how the decision needs to be made. She told the Senator she would be more than happy to meet later in the day, but that this is how things would be if Congress continues to kick the can down the road.

Your H-2B Workforce Coalition Co-Chairs,

Laurie Flanagan, Representing AmericanHort and the National Association of Landscape Professionals
Brian Crawford, American Hotel and Lodging Association
Gregg Hartley, Representing the Outdoor Amusement Business Association