In a timely push to lock in H-2B revisions from late last year while lobbying for administrative reforms – particularly to Labor Department functions of the foreign-worker program – the National Association of Landscape Professionals plans a May 18 “fly-in” event in the nation’s capital.
NALP is hopeful a number of its member companies that employ foreign workers will visit their states’ representatives and/or senators that day, following a NALP breakfast meeting to review talking points.
The lobbying effort is tied to the expected introduction May 20-30 of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. DHS has primary oversight of the H-2B program, although the Labor Department administers important parts of the process, under which “non-immigrant” foreign workers spend 10 months in the United States working with companies whose business is seasonal.
For those who can’t make it to Washington two weeks from now, NALP plans a webinar tomorrow (Wednesday, May 4) to discuss H-2B. (Go here to register.) Scheduled for 1:30-2:30 p.m. EDT, the webinar will be led by NALP’s vice president of government relations, Paul Mendelsohn, and the H-2B Workforce Coalition’s co-chair, Laurie Flanagan.
In a Tuesday interview, Mendelsohn said he and Flanagan will provide an overview of key revisions to the program that were put in place by an omnibus spending bill that passed in December, as well as this year’s effort to ensure those revisions remain in effect for years to come.
NALP and other trade groups that represent businesses using the H-2B program will be working to put the three wins from last year into the DHS appropriations bill.
First and foremost among the three is “something that is extremely important to landscape professionals” – an exemption of returning foreign workers from the 66,000 annual cap on H-2B visas. Mendelsohn stressed that the exemption enables landscape contractors to continue using people they’ve hired, trained and come to know.
“You have an opportunity through the business relationship to form a personal relationship,” Mendelsohn said, “and the worker wants to return to the same business, too.”
When the omnibus budget bill passed in December, it exempted foreign workers from the cap for five years. Mendelsohn said Tuesday that while NALP believes the exemption should be permanent, there are no plans to push for that, or any extension, this year.
“We’ll be working to ensure the (five-year) exemption remains in place,” he said.
Last year’s revisions to the program also defined the “season” during which a foreign worker may be employed through the H-2B program as 10 months.
The final revision in the omnibus bill, also considered key by landscapers, is the use of private wage surveys in completing a key administrative filing required under the program.
On the bureaucratic front, Mendelsohn said landscape contractors remain frustrated that “changes designed to speed the H-2B process have resulted in delays instead.” NALP members will be encouraged to talk with senators and representatives about that, he said, although the organization isn’t likely to push administrative reforms in working on the House bill.
The H-2B program is politically controversial. Immigration opponents such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, took strong exception to last year’s revisions. Sessions has labeled H-2B “one of the most controversial foreign worker programs,” saying it results in higher unemployment and lower wages for Americans.
Fortunately, Mendelsohn says, the program has the support of many Republicans and some Democrats, and NALP’s push for continuing legislative relief will be bipartisan.
He said it’s important that NALP demonstrate “grassroots support” among its member businesses to help the association lobby effectively. And while the May 18 fly-in is a key part of the work, Mendelsohn said, tomorrow’s webinar will help participants in contacting their congressional delegations by telephone, email and other means.