The Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) announced that as of March 10, 2004, it will no longer accept H-2B petitions containing requests to start work prior to October 1, 2004. It has already met the congressionally mandated cap of 66,000 workers.
According to an article in the Arizona Daily Star, this is the first time CIS has enforced a pre-existing quota of 66,000. However, CIS officials say that limit has always been technically upheld because the total number included thousands of visas approved by immigration services. "The cap itself has never been exceeded," Chris Bently, spokesman for CIS, told the Arizona Daily Star.
According to CIS, the program will adjudicate petitions received on or before March 9, 2004 in the order in which they are received. "CIS is not suspending premium processing, and normal rules applicable to cases subject to premium processing will still apply."
CIS will return all petitions subject to the annual cap that are filed after March 9, 2004. This includes the filing fee and, if applicable, the premium processing fee. Applicants may reapply with a new starting date of October 1, 2004 or later.
According to a recent press release provided by the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA), amendments to previously approved petitions and petitions for extension of stay are not affected by the cap. Employers petitioning to extend the stay of a current H2-B worker, change or add employers to a current H-2B worker, or change the terms of employment for a current H-2B worker will have their petitions processed.
ANLA stated, "The fact that the cap has been hit so early this year underscores the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform." In a letter to members, ANLA said, "We expect that a number of landscape and landscape distribution businesses … will face direct impacts by not being able to bring in all the H-2B workers that they have planned to employ."
Gerald Burns, an immigration law attorney, discussed the visa cut with Arizona Daily Star. "In a nutshell, it’s going to deny employers access to critically needed workers. Those industries who have a reliance on H-2B workers—landscapers, resorts, ranchers—are really going to struggle."