Guest Worker Visa Reform Gains Momentum, Tell Congress to Finish the Job!

October 4, 2017

Status update

On September 15, the House of Representatives passed a $1.2 trillion funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 that will serve as a benchmark for negotiations with the Senate on a final package.  Congress must negotiate a final bill by December 8, when the current continuing resolution (CR) to fund federal programs at FY2017 levels will expire.  While the equine industry and its allies have taken an important first step by inserting some H-2B visa reform measures within the text of the current House spending bill (such as wage-survey flexibility), the fight to insert broader visa cap relief in a final spending bill continues.  

Legislation Moving in Congress:

Fortunately, Congress can fix the broken guest worker visa program by acting on legislation currently moving through the legislative process.  AHC members can help push the legislative process forward by weighing in with your elected officials in Washington.  Contact your federal lawmakers today and urge them to support H2B visa reform through the following vehicles:

  • FY2018 Appropriations – Tell your lawmakers to include H-2B visa cap relief provisions in the final spending bill. This must-pass legislation is the most active vehicle moving through Congress.  Meaningful cap relief includes common-sense exemptions for returning guest workers.    
  • Strengthen Employment and Seasonal Opportunities (SEASON) Act (H.R. 2004) – Tell your representative to cosponsor H.R. 2004, which will provide cap relief by establishing an exemption for well-vetted workers who have already held a visa. This bill currently has 30 co-sponsors, a number which must grow to gain more political traction.  If your representative is already a sponsor, tell him to contact leadership to assure passage.   
  • Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2017 (S. 792) – Call both of your senators and tell them to cosponsor S. 792, legislation that will expedite applications to meet labor demands during peak seasons. This bipartisan bill currently has 12 sponsors, and will need many more to win floor time in the Senate.  If your senators are already sponsors, tell them to contact leadership to make the bill a high priority.  

To contact your lawmaker’s Washington office, please call the Capitol switchboard at 202-225-3121, and ask to be connected to your elected official’s office.  Also, you can tweet your representative and senators by using #SaveH2B. 

Emerging Legislation, Next Steps:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is soon expected to introduce the Agricultural Guest Worker Act of 2017, legislation that would replace the cumbersome H-2A program with more flexible H-2C visas.   The draft text shared with AHC from House Judiciary Committee staff would accomplish the following benefits for large segments of the equine sector: 

  • The bill would replace the H-2A program outright, with a new program that creates incentives to hire foreign labor through legal channels;
  • Reduce financial and paperwork burdens on agricultural employers by discarding H-2A mandates such as free housing and transportation;
  • Create marketplace flexibility by establishing “at will” employment between visa holders and agricultural employers;
  • Establish a baseline of 500,000 visas, with a built-in “escalator” that can result in 10% increases in the number of guest visas issued in subsequent years.  According to State Dept. stats, the number of H2A visas has fluctuated between 65,000 and 135,000 during the past five fiscal years. 

The House Judiciary Committee postponed a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, October 4 to formally introduce and review the bill.  AHC will keep you updated on developments related to the Agriculture Guest Worker Act, and other legislation impacting hiring practices for the equine sector.  If you would like a summary of the draft bill, or have perspectives on immigration policy and priorities you would like to share, please contact Bryan Brendle at bbrendle@horsecouncil.org