Recently, a vote in the Senate attached H-2B reform legislation to the emergency supplemental spending bill funding the war and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and endorsed by the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA), would provide H-2B employers access to much needed foreign workers. The next step in this effort to secure relief from the statutory H2B cap is a joint Conference Committee of key senators and representatives.
During this conference differences between the Senate and House versions of the supplemental spending bill will be reconciled. "That means there is the possibility that H-2B relief will be stripped from the spending bill despite the overwhelming show of Senate support for the Mikulski amendment," said John Meredith, ANLA's director of legislative relations. "However, the strength of the 94 to 6 vote will work in our favor."
The H-2B program limits businesses' access to temporary seasonal foreign labor by capping visas at 66,000. This limit threatens many small businesses, including landscape firms, with a shortage of labor and resulting inability to operate this year. The Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act would exempt workers who had participated in the H-2B program during any of the past three years from being counted toward the cap in the next two years, allowing their employers access to the trained and trusted workers they have become dependent on to meet their seasonal needs.
Meredith, advising ANLA's members in the H-2B employers community recommended, "If you have not already gotten your paperwork in order, please do so as soon as possible, but do not submit it at this time. The paperwork should only be submitted after our H-2B proposal passes the conference committee hurdle and is signed by the president. ANLA will, of course, let you know when the time comes to send in those documents."
Meredith warned the industry that continued diligence would be necessary to secure enactment of the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act. "We are close to final victory, but we need to clear the conference committee. Be on the look out for ANLA's next call to action and respond accordingly." Meredith concluded by praising the industry's involvement in ongoing immigrant labor reform efforts. "Grassroots efforts were an essential ingredient to our success so far. The tireless work of ANLA members, state and regional associations and other H-2B stakeholder industry grassroots around the country have brought us to the brink of success. Diligence a short while longer is all we need to achieve ultimate victory."