Visa change could help local businesses |

Visa change could help local businesses

Tamara Miller

EAGLE COUNTY – Gary Gilman has been trying to bring four people into the United States for the past two years, but with no success.Gilman, the president of the local SteamMaster Carpet Cleaning company, is one of many local business owners who have had trouble recently hiring foreign workers for seasonal jobs. That’s because the United States each year issues only 66,000 “H-B2″ visas – the kind of work visa most seasonal foreign workers here have. The cap has been met for the past two years.However, a bill that President Bush signed into law last week could open the door a bit for local businesses like Gilman’s. The Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act exempts all returning seasonal foreign workers from the 66,000 national cap, which would allow some new foreign workers to come to the United States.”We’re hoping it will help,” Gilman said. “It’s hard trying to find qualified people who are willing to do the kind of work we do.”The 66,000 cap has been around for years, but local businesses never had problems getting H-B2 visas because of the limit until about two years ago. Immigration attorney Eric Fisher said the cap probably has been met before then but federal officials only began strictly enforcing it after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It particularly hurt employers looking specifically for summer seasonal employees, Fisher said. That’s because the ski resorts flood federal agencies with requests early on, leaving few H-B2 visas to give out for the spring and summer months, he said. The new law also aims to solve that problem by having only half of the 66,000 visas issued at the beginning of the year, reserving the other half for the rest of the year.Under the law, all visa requests go directly to the federal immigration department, and allows business owners to pay an extra $1,000 to have their request processed in less than a week, Fisher said. Previously, visa applications had to be processed by the federal labor department first before being fowarded to the immigration department. That process took up to three months, leaving employers in the dark about the status of the application in the meantime, he said. Gilman had already filed the paperwork for the H-B2 visas he needed before he found out that the cap had been met. Obtaining an H-B2 visa for one worker can costs about $2,000 in fees and other expenses, such as first advertising the position in attempt to attract American workers.”We spent thousands and have had zero (visas) in two years,” Gilman said.The small business bill was bundled with HR 1268, a much larger bill aimed at providing additional money for the Iraq war effort. The changes will help local businesses, Fisher said. But it likely won’t help them in time for this summer season.Change can’t come soon enough for Gilman. “It’s affected our ability to have a steady workforce over the last couple of years,” he said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or, Colorado

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