House Advances Relief on H-2B Guest Worker Program

House Appropriators Score Win for Horse Industry, Advance H-2B Visa Cap Relief.

American Horse Council

A U.S. House committee has approved an amendment that exempts returning workers from the 66,000 statutory cap imposed on the H-2B guest worker visa program.

On July 25, the Appropriations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives convened a mark-up for the Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). By voice vote, the committee approved an amendment that exempts returning workers from the 66,000 statutory cap imposed on the H-2B guest worker visa program, providing much needed H-2B visa cap relief advocated by the horse industry and its allies.

The amendment, offered by Congressional Horse Caucus Members Rep. Andy Harris, MD (R-MD) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), among others, applies to workers who have received guest worker visas during the previous two years. Additionally, the provision also establishes a visa allocation system that disburses work permits on a quarterly basis.

Lawmakers believe that the quarterly system will create more flexibility for employers whose labor demands do not align with the semi-annual allocation system, whereby DHS awards permits on April 1 and October 1. The horse industry and its allies in the H-2B Coalition fight for a variety of flexibility measures, including a straight-forward increase in the visa cap, or generous exemptions from the statutory cap, such as those for returning workers.

Pointing to another flexibility measure, Rep. Harris (R-MD) released a statement explaining the importance of a provision that allocates visas on a “proportional” rather than a “winner take all” basis. Under this provision, DHS would award a portion of all timely, requested visas to all applicants, even in the event that “the higher limits authorized by [the] amendment are not enough to satisfy all the needs in a given year.”

To view a copy of Rep. Harris's statement, click here.

While the House spending bill advances the goal of effectively raising the H-2B visa cap, the Senate version of the bill doesn't address the H-2B visa issue, setting up an item to be negotiated during a House and Senate conference. Although lawmakers intend to finalize their spending measures before the current FY ends on September 30, this is a deadline that Congress rarely meets. As in years past, Congress may pass a series of “continuing resolutions” to fund the federal government.

The American Horse Council will keep its members posted on developments related to the H-2B measure as the FY2019 appropriations process moves forward.

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