On June 22, the full House Appropriations Committee accepted an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee’s FY 2017 Appropriations Bill to extend the H-2B Returning Workers Exemption. This provision is important for landowners and contractors who depend on migrant workers for reforestation purposes.
Through the extension of this provision, H-2B workers who have entered under an H-2B visa in any of the previous three years will not be counted against the annual 66,000-worker cap for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1. Returning workers will still be required to submit all the necessary paperwork, but they will not count toward the 66,000-worker cap which limits the number of visas issued to H-2B workers.
According to the Forest Resources Association, the decision to support the provision was not an easy one for many House members, given the fact that immigration policy is in the spotlight due to security concerns. However, the grassroots activity from Forest Resources Association (FRA) and Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) members played a major role in securing support for the provision.
“I would like to thank FRA members for the many contacts they made with their legislators over the past several months—and particularly the contacts with Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) in the past week,” FRA President and CEO Deb Hawkinson said. “Those messages were crucial to obtaining the majority in the House we needed.”
The Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, however, does not have equivalent provisions. Apart from opposing any motion to remove the Returning Worker Exemption during the House floor vote, it will be important to continue grassroots advocacy efforts to preserve the provision the House language during the House-Senate conference committee reconciliation process.
“Appropriations negotiations are always contentious, especially in election years, and it may still be several months before a final bill reaches the President’s desk,” said Neil Ward, vice president of public affairs for FRA.
American workers are guaranteed first chance at every job later filled by an H-2B temporary laborer. By law, every open position must be properly advertised in the community and requires employers to hire any able and willing American workers to fill open positions. H-2B workers do not displace American workers. In fact, according to an American Enterprise Institute study on Immigration and American Jobs, every H-2B worker creates or sustains 4.64 American jobs on average.
To learn more about the H2-B visa issue, visit FRA’s status report on the issue here or the H-2B Workforce Coalition at www.h2bworkforcecoalition.com. GFA will keep our members up to date on future advocacy updates related to this issue.