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Visa quota may limit seasonal workers

Veronica Whitney

This summer, if beds go unmade, landscaping services are backlogged or clean laundry does not get out to the hotels in the valley, it could be because local employers might fail to fill hundreds of seasonal jobs.



The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, announced last week that it has received enough H-2B petitions to meet this year’s congressionally mandated cap of 66,000 new workers.

The H-2B visa program allows for skilled and unskilled workers to come to the United States to fill seasonal jobs in hotels, landscaping, restaurants and construction.



“We have a large number of employers who want to bring hundreds of workers, and that will not happen,” said local immigration attorney Chris Pooley of the Immigration Law Office of Sienna La Rene and Chris Pooley. “Reaching the quota will affect employers in the valley greatly, because employers strongly rely on hiring foreign workers for seasonal jobs.

Fifty percent of visa requests they received at the office are for H-2B visas, Pooley said.

“That’s a big number. The employers who request H-2B visas bring a lot of workers. Some bring 50 workers at a time,” he added.



Employer concerns

Immigration authorities stopped accepting any new H-2B petitions as of March 9. That is subject to the fiscal year 2004 annual cap, which ends Oct. 1.

The H-2B program allows employers to bring in seasonal workers if the job is first advertised to Americans at prevailing wage but has no takers.

“All qualified U.S. workers who have applied for these seasonal jobs have been hired, but that represents only 5 percent of the workers advertised for and needed by valley employers,” Pooley said. “If they are denied their H-2B workers this season, employers are concerned about the financial impact on their businesses. The shortage of seasonal employees will also translate into poor service availability. It could also jeopardize their ability to retain the U.S. workers on their staff who are year-round or regular employees.”

Reaching cap

Although the cap has been in place since 1991, this year is the first time it’s been reached, Pooley said.

The long process to get the visa might hurt employers, too. Employers who want to import workers on H-2Bs must first apply to the U.S. Department of Labor, then U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That process can take four to six months.

“There’s a rule that says you can’t start the process before 120 days in advance. For workers to come in June, we started work in February. But then, the labor certification process can take three months,” he said.

In the meantime, Pooley is recommending that employers write letters to legislators to support a campaign to increase the quota for H2-Bs.

“We’re hoping that the government will increase the quota, but it might not have a lot of political momentum,” Pooley said.

Instead of bringing workers from abroad, Pooley and Sienna La Rene are recommending that employers try to find H2-B visa workers who already are in the country and offer them a second job. Although the quota has been reached, immigration authorities will continue to process petitions filed to extend the stay of a current H-2B worker in the United States.

“If there’s anybody who is trying to get another job for the summer, we could probably match them with an employers,” Pooley said.

The phone number for the Immigration Law Office of Sienna La Rene and Chris Pooley is 926-5559. Local attorney Don Lemon also specializes in immigration law. His number is 748-9100.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

At a glance

What will happen

After reaching the federally mandated quota this year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will use the following procedure for the remainder of fiscal year 2004, which ends Oct. 1:

– It will return all petitions subject to the annual cap (along with the filing fee and, if applicable, the premium processing fee) that are filed after the end of business on March 9.

– Petitioners may resubmit or file new petitions when they have received labor certification approval for work to start on or after Oct. 1.

Petitions for current H-2B workers do not count toward the congressionally mandated H-2B cap. Accordingly, immigration authorities will continue to process petitions filed to:

– Extend the stay of a current H-2B worker in the United States.

– Change the terms of employment for current H-2B workers.

– Allow current H-2B workers to change or add employers.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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