U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Oct. 1 that it had received sufficient petitions to meet the congressionally mandated cap for the first half of fiscal year 2008.
As of last week, Congress had not reauthorized or extended the return worker exemption for the coming year. This means that USCIS must count all petitions requesting H-2B workers for new employment with an employment start date of Oct. 1, 2007, or later toward the fiscal year 2008 H-2B cap. The American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) is continuing to pressure Congress to extend this exemption so that the landscape and tree-care industries will continue to have access to the workers they need, stated an ANLA press release.
In the face of the cap being met, ANLA has continued to lobby Congress for an extension to the return worker exemption. According to ANLA's retained lobbyist, Laurie-Ann Flanagan of D.C. Legislative and Regulatory Services, Inc., "support for extending the returning worker exemption continues to grow on Capitol Hill."
The "Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act" currently has 28 cosponsors in the Senate and 80 cosponsors in the House.
"While our industry ultimately requires comprehensive reform to truly address this problem, ANLA is working tirelessly with our allies to secure this temporary extension to provide short-term relief," said Bob Dolibois, ANLA Executive Vice President.
USCIS will apply a computer-generated random selection process to all petitions that are subject to the cap and were received on Sept. 27, 2007. USCIS will reject and return the fee for all randomly selected cap subjects. USCIS will also reject petitions for new H-2B workers seeking employment start dates prior to April 1, 2008, that were received after Sept. 27, 2007.
They are, however, prepared for the possibility of a retroactive extension. In early August, USCIS urged employers to designate returning workers on their petitions for the fiscal year 2008 so the agency can implement the exemption if it is passed by Congress.
Dolibois urged landscape and tree-care industry workers to get involved. "The timing of the cap being met the same day the current return worker exemption expires, makes this a critical and perfect time for affected industry businesses to contact Congress and stress the importance of the H-2B program for your own business and our industry."
For more information, go to www.anla.org .