The case for in-country H-2B transfers Email
Written by Colorado Green Now   
Tuesday, July 27, 2021 04:00 AM

Colorado Green NOW

When it comes to the H-2B visa program, the landscape industry is the biggest user of H-2B visas in Colorado. Ongoing labor shortages plague the industry, and business leaders are exploring many options for H-2B reform to help bridge the labor gap and increase the availability of seasonal foreign workers to fill jobs that are unable to be filled locally.

John McMahon, CEO of Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC), has used his experience and his contacts in the hospitality and ski industries to develop collaborations that could help uncover solutions to the challenges of the current H-2B program. Without the returning worker exemption, and with a restriction in 2020 preventing workers from entering the U.S. on H-2B visas, companies that rely on seasonal workers to help fulfill their contracts faced dire consequences, including cancellation of contracts. Those cancellations result in loss of revenue for businesses, lack of services for clients, and even the loss of local workers’ jobs when crews can’t be completed with seasonal foreign labor.

One solution, championed by ALCC member Pabian Law, involves partnership with other Colorado industries that use H-2B workers. The transfer of H-2B workers from winter work in the ski and hospitality industries to jobs at landscape companies could be mutually beneficial and save companies time and effort spent applying for workers, explains Keith Pabian. Many seasonal workers have proven their ability to handle manual labor and outdoor work in the mountain resorts, so supporters of the in-country transfer option see opportunity for a successful transition to summer landscape work.

With the numerical cap and a lottery system for assigning visas to applicants, there is only a 50-50 chance of getting the workers you need, Pabian notes. And since in-country transfers were not affected by the recent restrictions, it was a more reliable source of actual H-2B workers. If there are further restrictions to international travel due to COVID-19 variants or other issues, in-country transfers of H-2B workers could be the only option.
Hospitality—specifically the ski industry—has used in-country transfers of H-2B workers for some time. It has proven successful, with workers moving between seasonal assignments without the nerve-wracking wait to learn if the lottery fell in your company’s favor.

The idea of transferring workers between assignments is new to the landscape industry, though. McMahon noted that there has been some reticence to adopt this option for a few reasons. Training is one issue. With returning H-2B workers, employers don’t have to train the workers each year. For an in-country transfer from another industry, there might be a period of training necessary to onboard workers to landscape jobs.

But Pabian points out that if a relationship is forged for the transfer of workers, that training need only take place the first season. The workers could then return the following year as a transfer, as they are able to remain in the country during the landscaping “off season” while working in a seasonal winter position. After being in the country for a few years, the workers may need to return to their home country to “reset” their visa, but that may not necessarily occur during the busy landscape season and may not affect their work.

Maximizing transfers of workers from winter to summer work—ski industry to landscape industry, could provide much-needed relief while efforts continue to reform the H-2B visa program.

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green NOW:
Recapping a busy month for H-2B legislation
H-2B updates from NALP--July 2021
Survey finds that homeowner interest in landscape services has grown
SBA launching PPP forgiveness portal