Another spring, another season of uncertainty for landscape contractors and others who depend on seasonal H-2B visa guest workers to get through their busiest time of year, according to a story by Jodi Goldberg reported on FOX 5 (New York City).
“This year I have 13 people that I need to bring in,” Judy Ogden, president of Ogden’s Design & Plantings told Goldberg. “They’re my staff that runs my crews for my company. If I don’t have them I don’t have workers.” And without them, Ogden says it’s nearly impossible for her to run her landscape design business.
The H-2B visa program permits employers like Ogden to hire foreign guest workers. These workers are not immigrants; when their work season is over, they go back to their home countries.
"They come in April and leave in December," Ogden says. "They will come in legally, they will be documented with driver’s licenses and with paying taxes."
Ogden always applies early to make sure she can secure her seasonal staff. However, in 2017, the policy changed, and a lottery system was put in place. That’s made it more difficult to predict whether or not a business will get the workers it needs. The plethora of “help wanted” signs being seen illustrate a small part of a big problem. Suffolk County officials estimate there are well over a thousand seasonal workers still needed in just that county alone.
Employers nationwide have been informed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement nationwide that the 66,000 worker cap for 2019 has already been met. That’s the total number of H-2B guest workers allowed in each year, and the green industry, hospitality and other industries all draw personnel from that same pool. Competition is fierce. Officials are once again calling on the Secretary of Homeland Security to lift the cap so businesses can get through their peak season.
Congressman Lee Zeldin, who says he supports President Trump’s policies on illegal immigration, says these workers are documented and the jobs they take are ones that are not being filled by Americans.
"Here we are in middle of March and employers do not know if they’re going to have their workforce for their businesses on the North Fork and South Fork," Zeldin told Goldberg.
Ogden, for her part, told Goldberg that she has a message for Washington: "It’s small businesses getting hurt, we rely on workers here or there and all the visas need to be released."