Visa reform eases seasonal labor crunch
SUMMIT COUNTY – Finding seasonal employees both for the winter and summer should be a little easier for businesses this coming year, following a few changes to the H2B visa program that enables non U.S. citizens to work in the landscaping, construction and hospitality industries.Congress last summer re-vamped the visa program’s quotas to exempt workers that had worked under the same program in the previous three years. In effect, that added about 35,000 slots under the program, said Chris Pooley, an Avon immigration attorney who represents the hospitality, construction and landscaping industries.”It’s only a Band-Aid measure, though,” Pooley said. “If we don’t address permanent immigration reform, we’ll be right back where we were last year.”The changes were pushed through as part of an Iraq spending measure after some serious lobbying by concerned industries.Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said the company hadn’t yet used up all its potential H2B slots, and with plans to try and employ displaced New Orleans casino workers, it may not need its entire H2B quota, she said.The H2B program provides visas for 66,000 unskilled workers, but the problem was that the cap was being reached earlier and earlier each year. In 2005, the cap was reached in January, and as the summer gardening season approached, landscape contractors and restaurant operators feared they would face a shortage of workers.Congress acted quickly and amended the H2B program in May. For now, those additional 35,000 spots appear to be sufficient.”We’re just a few days from the end of the fiscal year (at the end of September), and the cap hasn’t been reached yet,” Pooley said. “It’s been good relief for the businesses that have been playing by the rules,” he added.There was a bit of opposition to the changes revolving around concern for the potential of illegal immigration, but Pooley said experience has shown that H2B workers nearly always return home when their visas expire. In the end, even as staunch an immigration policy critic as U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo was on board with the changes, Pooley concluded.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at email@example.com
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