Louisiana sugar cane farmers, agricultural associations, hospitality industry stakeholders and landscaping interests felt the pinch of the H-2B guest worker program throughout 2015. The program is heavily regulated, time consuming and costly. Louisiana is among the largest users per capita of the H-2B program, which allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers on temporary visas to meet labor needs in industries such as agriculture, landscaping, hospitality and seafood processing. But because of cap limitations and administrative delays, H-2B visas were consumed earlier this year – just when Louisiana employers needed laborers most urgently.
However, two Louisiana Congressmen, Sen. Bill Cassidy and Rep. Charles Boustany are promoting legislation to make the H-2B program more efficient for businesses and guest workers alike. If they are successful, the implications for Louisiana’s domestic labor and businesses that rely on this labor pool could be significant. Indeed, in July, Rep. Boustany cited a study showing that for every H-2B visa issued, four U.S. jobs are sustained.
Still, the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Homeland Security introduced new regulations in April that significantly modified the feasibility of the H-2B program. For example, the regulations created long delays in the DOL’s certification process and a lack of transparency from the Department of Homeland Security concerning the availability of H-2B visas. Now, Sen. Cassidy and Rep. Boustany have joined other legislators to try to repeal those regulations.
Employers who rely on the H-2B program for seasonal, temporary or other labor needs should carefully watch this legislation and the benefits that may follow.