On March 13, 2014, Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), introduced a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for requirements for employers of H-2B non-immigrants (HR 4238). The bill would make changes to the H-2B temporary non-agricultural guest worker program and help ensure the program is a functional option for employers who can’t find American workers, including those in the horse industry.
The H-2B program is used by members of the horse industry, principally horse trainers and owners who cannot find American workers to fill semi-skilled jobs at racetracks, horse shows, fairs and in similar non-agricultural activities.
Currently, the regulations governing the H-2B program have many shortcomings that make the program expensive and burdensome to use and an interim final H-2B wage rule, which went into effect April 2013, has made the H-2B program even more costly to use.
The bill would make several improvements to the H-2B program by addressing not only how wages for H-2B workers are calculated, but also the 66,000 annual cap on visas. It would re-instate the so called “returning worker exemption.” Under this provision returning H-2B workers would not count against the annual 66,000 cap on H-2B visas. This cap is often reached very quickly, leaving many employers without workers.
The bill would also clarify that the “prevailing wage” methodology used to set wage rates for H-2B workers should be reflective of the experience, training and supervision required for the job based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data and ensure that wages are fair and reflective of economic realities. This would be an improvement over the 2013 wage rule that uses the mean wage rate for an occupation in the area of intended employment, which artificially inflates wage rates.
The bill would streamline the H-2B recruitment process and permit “staggered entry” to allow employers to bring workers in on multiple dates and it would give H-2B rulemaking authority solely to the Department of Homeland Security, removing the Department of Labor from its current role in the program. It would also clarify that employers are not responsible for providing housing to H-2B workers.
Additionally, the bill would require employers to reimburse H-2B workers mid-season for their transportation and subsistence costs, but clarify employers are only responsible for travel to and from the U.S. consulate issuing the visa or from a previous work site or to a new work site.
The bill also includes protections to prevent American workers from being displaced by H-2B workers.
The bill addresses several of the problems associated with the H-2B program and is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including the AHC.
For more information visit the AHC website.