H2B Reform Legislation Introduced in U.S. Senate Hopes to Solve Issues Employers Continue to Face
If passed, the "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2015" will reportedly create an H-2B returning worker exemption; require wages to be based on the job category and experience level required, rather than the median wage; allow the use of private wage surveys; specify that H-2B employers do not need to provide housing to their workers, allow for payroll deductions for housing in accordance with the Fair Labors Standards Act, and require employers to "make reasonable efforts" to assist H-2B workers in locating housing.
Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) recently introduced the "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2015."
The National Association of Landscape Professionals, which is aligned with the H-2B Workforce Coalition, announced that they were "very involved in the drafting of this legislation." They state that the bill will remedy the key issues that employers continue to face with the H-2B program.
This action follows a letter sent earlier in week to the Department of Labor from Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mikulski that expressed concern with existing H-2B processing delays. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) sent a similar letter.
NALP expects the H-2B legislation to be introduced in the House shortly and the trade group is calling on green industry professionals to call their senators and ask them to cosponsor the legislation, send them a letter from this advocacy web site (http://www.congressweb.com/pln/112), ask them to cosponsor the legislation via Twitter and Facebook using #saveH2B and #landscapeadvocacy. The twitter address for your senators and representative can be found through the links below:
The "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2015" would do the following:
o Create an H-2B returning worker exemption;
o Require wages to be based on the job category and experience level required, rather than the median wage;
o Allow the use of private wage surveys;
o Return the H-2B program to an attestation based process;
o Specify that H-2B employers do not need to provide housing to their workers, allow for payroll deductions for housing in accordance with the Fair Labors Standards Act, and require employers to "make reasonable efforts" to assist H-2B workers in locating housing;
o Specify that for H-2B workers, full time is considered 30 or more hours per week and seasonal need is limited to 10 months;
o Require employers to reimburse H-2B workers for their transportation costs from the consulate or previous worksite to the place of employment after the H-2B workers work for 50 percent of the season, as well as require the employer to pay return transportation costs to the consulate or new worksite;
o Require employers to report to DHS any H-2B worker who does not report for work within 5 days of his or her anticipated start date or who does not report for work for 5 consecutive days without consent of the employer;
o Allow for staggered crossing of H-2B workers;
o Allow for the replacement of an H-2B worker who leaves the job for the completion of the job term;
o Provide for conditional approval for H-2B workers by DHS once the cap is met so that visas may be issued in the order approved if cap numbers become available;
o Require the creation of an electronic reporting system between the Departments of State and Homeland Security that will provide for "real time" counting of the H-2B cap and require the State Department to provide DHS with weekly updates related to the H-2B cap count;
o Require DHS to publicly post on a website the cap count, the annual number of target beneficiaries, the cap count methodology it is using, number of H-2B visa petitions approved and received during the past five years and other items;
o Require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the DHS cap count methodology and its accuracy; and
o Specify that DHS has exclusive authority to issue H-2B rules and final determinations.
NALP reports that they will continue to advocate for the passage of this legislation and continue to lobby for H-2B relief through the federal appropriations process.