Seasonal employers were relieved when the U.S. Department of Labor recently resumed processing H-2B visa program labor certifications. However, an ominous cloud of proposed new program regulations threaten what could be sunnier days for employers and workers alike.
The long-running H-2B program enables businesses that perform seasonal work to legally hire employees from outside of the United States for positions, which they would otherwise not be able to fill efficiently and effectively. For decades, the owners of businesses in industries such as landscaping, construction, hotel, restaurant and commercial fishing, among others, have supplemented their domestic workforce by using the H-2B visa program to meet peak seasonal demand, while simultaneously supporting our economy and creating jobs to which Americans aspire and Hispanic Americans, by virtue of their cultural and linguistic capabilities, are especially well qualified to fill.
Reliance by reputable companies in the landscape industry on the H-2B visa program has greatly contributed to advancement and professional development opportunities for many thousands of Hispanic Americans and enabled many others to acquire the knowledge to open their own successful companies. Today, more than 16 percent of business owners, twice the national average, and over 43 percent of the workforce in the landscape industry are Hispanic Americans. Hispanic landscaping and lawn care industry leaders are making significant economic and social contributions to Hispanic communities across the country.
In making the H-2B visa program more arduous and costly for employers, the Department of Labor deprives companies of the workforce needed to meet client needs and places at risk the livelihood of hundreds of thousands Hispanic American families. With positions going unfilled, these businesses lose clients and are forced to shrink and shed employees or shut down altogether.
Prior to using the H-2B visa program, employers must prove that they are not able to fill their positions with domestic workers. Congress established this requirement when it created the H-2B visa program to facilitate the orderly entry and exit of foreign workers to meet seasonal demand and benefit our economy and American workers. A few years ago, one of our members, a Latino business owner who employs more than 300 workers in the Denver area, hired 1,300 employees in an attempt to keep less than 60 positions filled over a nine-month period of time. That employer never knew who would be showing up for work on any given day and production quality fell to the point that more than 10 percent of their customers did not renew for the following year.
The Department of Labor must stop burdening the H-2B program with rules that make the program impossible for small reputable companies to use. DOL needs to stop punishing American small businesses for legally hiring an efficient and effective workforce. DOL also needs to stop punishing foreign workers eager to legally fill the seasonal jobs that too few Americans want. Finally, DOL needs to stop undermining the jobs in the landscape industry and other industries that the supply of H-2B workers makes possible.
Ralph Egües is the executive director of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance.