Vail Valley Partnership CEO: H-2B visa program supports business and community (column) | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Partnership CEO: H-2B visa program supports business and community (column)

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

The H-2B visa is an important program for our local workforce, and the H-2B visa helps preserve small and seasonal businesses prominent in the Vail Valley. However, the program isn't without major challenges and frustrations to those who utilize it.

Local businesses use the H-2B program to employ foreign workers for temporary nonagricultural jobs. This is vital to fill our workforce, with local unemployment hovering around 2 percent — we simply don't have enough people to fill the jobs available. Congress has set the H-2B cap at 66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (Oct. 1 — March 31) and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 — Sept. 30). Additional information is available on the Cap Count for H-2B non immigrants page.

In January, the Department of Labor announced a change to its process of issuing labor certifications. As a result, on Feb. 7 USCIS advised of the likely need to conduct an H-2B visa lottery for the second half of FY18. As was noted in that Feb. 7 statement, USCIS would be maintaining a flexible approach to this issue by ensuring H-2B visas were allocated fairly and would not exceed the cap.

In late February, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began receiving H-2B cap-subject petitions for the second half of fiscal year 2018.

During the first five business days USCIS received approximately 2,700 H-2B cap-subject petitions requesting approximately 47,000 workers, which is more than the number of H-2B visas available.

H.R. 2004, the Strengthen Employment And Seasonal Opportunities Now (SEASON) Act, rights the uncertainties and frustration that have plagued the program for the past several years. Without this legislation, H-2B businesses will continue to struggle and many could even be driven out of business. We encourage local businesses to support the SEASON Act.

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The H-2B program is essential to employers who cannot find local temporary workers to fill jobs in fields including hospitality, forestry, landscaping, food concessionaires, stone quarries and other seasonal industries. The program provides an opportunity for these businesses to operate at a greater capacity, retain their full-time workers and contribute their local economies. Seasonal workers help support many upstream and downstream jobs. Every H-2B worker is estimated to create and sustain 4.64 American jobs.

Unfortunately, the program's annual 66,000 cap (33,000 for each half of the fiscal year) is not adequate to meet the demands of our growing economy. The cap for the first half of the fiscal 2016 was reached on Jan. 9. The second-half cap was reached on March 13, leaving many seasonal employers shut out of the program with no access to legal seasonal laborers.

This provision is essential to the continued success and growth of small and seasonal businesses across the country and locally.

In addition to the problematic cap, the H-2B program is extremely costly and complicated. Employers turn to the program because it is the only way they are able to hire legal seasonal workers. The program requires employers to undertake extensive recruitment of American workers, gain approval from four government agencies and pay a premium wage. HR 2004 streamlines the H-2B application process and provides much needed certainty for seasonal employers. At the same time, the bill preserves and enhances important protections for American and H-2B workers.

We support the SEASON Act. We encourage Congress to pass this important legislation so that small and seasonal businesses across the country can continue to operate, provide local jobs, serve their communities and contribute to the economy.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.