Legislation Introduced to Reform Seasonal H-2B Guest-Worker Program

by / Newsroom Ink on November 9, 2015
Crawfish Peelers

Legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to reform the H-2B seasonal guest-worker program. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom ink

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor

Legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to reform the H-2B seasonal guest-worker program. H.R. 3918, the Strengthen Employment and Seasonal Opportunities Now Act also known by its acronym the SEASON Act, will reform the guest-worker program used by American employers to hire foreign workers for temporary and seasonal work, such as forestry, seafood processing, and other industries.

Gulf

“New regulations for the H-2B program have been issued by the current administration increasing the red tape and creating higher costs for the small and seasonal businesses using the H-2B program,” said Gulf Seafood Institute member Frank Randol, owner of Randol’s Restaurant. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Introduced by House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot from Ohio, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, and Congressman Charles W. Boustany, Jr., MD of Louisiana, the SEASON Act is designed to bring needed reforms to the H-2B program in order to protect American workers, help U.S. employers who play by the rules hire seasonal guest-workers, save taxpayer dollars, and ensure the H-2B program is truly a temporary, seasonal guest-worker program.

“New regulations for the H-2B visa program issued by the current Administration are increasing the red tape and creating higher costs for the small and seasonal businesses using the H-2B program,” said Gulf Seafood Institute member Frank Randol, owner of Randol’s Restaurant and a shellfish processor who depends on guest-worker labor. “Many of our Gulf seafood processing plants were unable to open in 2015 due to a lack of labor. The industry will struggle to survive if they have a second year without these workers. This legislation is desperately needed.”

According to the Chairman Chabot, “Every year, thousands of employers must turn to foreign workers, through the H-2B visa program, in order to meet their temporary, seasonal employment needs.  Unfortunately, the number of available visas for seasonal workers is inadequate to meet the existing demand and is often exhausted in the first few months of the year, leaving many employers out in the cold and scrambling to find workers during peak periods.  The legislation we are introducing today would enact common-sense reforms that will increase the availability of seasonal work visas and make it easier for employers to meet the demands of the growing economy while encouraging foreign workers to follow our laws and play by the rules.”

“The SEASON Act will finally give the domestic crawfish a fighting chance to compete with the Chinese crawfish,”  said Crawfish Processors Alliance (CPA) Legislative Chair Michael K Hensgens. “CPA has been leading the charge to reform the H2B process for good reason.  With the crawfish season beginning in February, it is the very first industry needing seasonal help in processing the crop into a package product.”

Overhaul of H-2B

Components of the new legislation would protect American workers by requiring employers to first recruit U.S. workers and offer U.S. workers the same benefits, wages, and working conditions that H-2B workers will receive.

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According to Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot from Ohio, “Every year, thousands of employers must turn to foreign workers, through the H-2B visa program, in order to meet their temporary, seasonal employment needs.” Photo: U.S. Congress

Under the bill, employers seeking to use the H-2B program cannot improperly lay-off U.S. workers in order to hire foreign workers. Additionally, employers cannot fill positions if the former workers in those specific jobs are on strike or locked out in the course of a labor dispute.

The legislation is designed to help U.S. employers who play by the rules in hiring seasonal workers. It would expedite processing of H-2B applications so that U.S. employers have access to workers during their peak work seasons.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security would run the H-2B program and ensure employer compliance with the program’s obligations. The Department of Labor would be removed from its current oversight of the program.

“Legal, seasonal labor complementing critical Louisiana industries like seafood processing and agriculture drives our state’s economy, said Louisiana Representative Boustany. “But backwards policies from the Department of Labor are putting many Louisiana businesses between a rock and a hard place. I think we can do better. It’s time to reform this process to support Louisiana jobs and industry.”

The need for guest visas by small and seasonal employers has greatly outstripped the available supply. The SEASON Act would provide many guest-workers who abide by the law and return home at the end of a season the opportunity to return to the U.S. to work without being counted against the visa quota.

Under the SEASON Act, H-2B workers would be ineligible for federal public benefits, including Affordable Care Act subsidies. They would also not be eligible for refundable tax credits – the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Providing Needed Reforms

According to Boustany, the new legislation ensures the H-2B program is actually a temporary program: H-2B visas would be only available to perform temporary labor where an employer’s need for labor will last no more than one year and is seasonal up to 10 months.

Boustany

According to Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany, the new legislations ensures the H-2B program is actually a temporary program. Photo: U.S. Congress

“Frank Randol has provided tremendous insight and energy in writing and advancing this bill forward. I can’t thank Frank enough for his tireless advocacy on behalf of Louisiana seafood, and I’m proud to work with him in this effort,” Congressman Boustany told Gulf Seafood News.

Under the bill, an H-2B worker who has worked three years in the United States under the H-2B program or other temporary work programs must remain outside the U.S. for three months before being readmitted to work under any guest-worker programs.

“The SEASON Act provides much-needed reforms to the H-2B guest-worker program so that American employers have access to a reliable workforce during peak seasons,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said. “Additionally, the bill contains protections for American workers and taxpayers so that they are not adversely impacted by this seasonal guest-worker program.”

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the former editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. .

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  1. Michael says:

    This is GREAT NEWS!!! The enforcement of this new law will insure that Americans can take care of their families and communities as well. I would like to see this in the Fishing Industry as well. 75/25 rule MUST be enforced.

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