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Despite substantial efforts to recruit and train U.S. workers, horse farms, ranches, horse shows, trainers and others must use both the H-2B and H-2A temporary foreign worker programs to meet their labor needs. Without foreign workers the horse industry could not continue to operate as now does.
The racing and showing segments of the industry are particularly dependent on foreign workers. The horse racing industry has a $26.1 billion economic impact and supports 380,826 jobs. The horse show industry has a $28.7 billion economic impact and supports 380,416 jobs. The workers provided by the H-2B and H-2A programs are a small portion of horse industry workers, however they play a vital role within the industry.
Most foreign workers in the industry are directly responsible for the care of the horses upon which the entire horse industry is dependent. Without these workers to care for and raise the industry’s horses, many American jobs provided by and supported by the horse industry would be in jeopardy.
It is absolutely vital for of the horse industry to have access to a functioning, efficient and cost effective foreign temporary worker programs to meet its labor needs.
The AHC believes that while flaws still existed substantial improvements were made to the H-2A program by the December 18, 2008, H-2A rule (2008 H-2A rule). The regulations governing the H-2A program previous to that rule change had many shortcomings that made the admissions process long and cumbersome and directly impacted the ability of employers to use the program.
Less than a year after the 2008 rule went into effect, and before a full evaluation of the positive or negative effects of 2008 H-2A rule could be made, the DOL began a new rule making process and on February 12, 2010 issued a new H-2A rule (2010 H-2A rule). Unfortunately the 2010 rule rolled back most of the provisions of the 2008 Rule that made the H-2A program more usable and efficient and added new and burdensome requirements.
Because of the 2010 H-2A rule, applying for H-2A workers has become a more costly, difficult process. Often the system is unreliable and employers are left without workers when they are needed most. Many horse industry users of the program report unexplainable delays in the application process. Additionally, a lack of consistency in the adjudication of applications is becoming increasingly frustrating for those in the industry. It often appears whether or not an application is approved depends more on the individual reviewing the application rather than any established criteria. Currently, H-2A rules make the program almost unusable.
In 2008 new rules governing the H-2B program (2008 H-2B rule) were also implemented The 2008 H-2B rule made major changes to the H-2B program by implementing an “attestation-based” labor process in place of the previous “labor certification” process. This change among others was intended to make the H-2B program more usable and efficient while still providing protections for American and foreign workers.
Unfortunately, the DOL published a new H-2B proposed rule on March 18, 2011. Similarly, to the 2010 H-2A rule the DOL H-2B proposed rule would roll back most of the provisions of the 2008 H-2B rule that made the H-2B program more usable and efficient and will add new and burdensome requirements. This rule making process is ongoing and comments on the proposed rule were due May 17, 2011.
If enacted the proposed H-2B rule would adversely impact the ability of the horse industry to use the program.
To date numerous bills have been introduced in the 112th Congress concerning immigration, most enforcement oriented. Most notably in September, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the Legal Workforce Act (H.R.2885), which would require all employers to use the federal E-verify system to make sure their workers are authorized to work. The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill and reported it out of committee on September 21st
Additionally, in response to the concerns of the agricultural industry Chairman Smith has introduced the American Specialty Agriculture Act (H.R.2847). This bill would create a new, less burdensome temporary foreign agricultural worker program to replace the current H-2A program. Congressman Dan Lungren (R-CA) has also introduced a bill to address the concerns of agriculture. Congressman Lungren’s Legal Agricultural Workforce Act (H.R.2895) has drawn praise from the agricultural community.
The AHC supports broad, comprehensive immigration reform that will streamline the H-2A and H-2B program and provide a regulated way for the millions of alien workers in the U.S. to work their way to legal status.
Given the difficulty of passing comprehensive legislation, and the likely passage of mandatory e-verily legislation in the House. The AHC believes it is vital that Congress makes certain employers have access to functioning, efficient and cost effective foreign temporary worker programs for when no U.S. workers can be found.
The Horse industry does not oppose stricter enforcement or tightened border security as long as the legislation includes broader reforms making it possible to hire legal alien workers and hold on to current workers who are so valuable.