The landscaping industry is keeping a close eye on Washington, D.C., this summer as H.R. 3897, or the Returning Worker Exemption Act of 2021, has been introduced to expand the H-2B seasonal worker visa program.
The current program allows for 66,000 seasonal workers on an annual basis, broken into two 33,000 acceptance periods. H.R. 3897 will allow a total of 160,000 workers every year.
Along with expanding the number of workers, H.R. 3897 allows for a process of streamlining returning workers where they do not have to apply as a new participant each year.
“The bill also puts in place other logistical and operational features necessary for reforming the program and making it more efficient,” says Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia. “It strengthens application procedures, streamlines the online petition and makes it easy for people to get disbarred from the program if they are not doing it correctly.”
According to Coleman Garrison, government and public affairs director for the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, the measure will allow the landscaping industry more consistency with labor, building long-term relationships with employees instead of annual short-term working arrangements. He says it will lead to better project management and performance, as well as a more cohesive industry strategy for hiring.
“Right now we have worker shortages all over the place and many businesses rely on this program to supplement their domestic workers,” says Garrison. “This is a perfect time because there is not enough worker supply to fill these jobs as these are jobs that many in the domestic workforce do not want to do. It gives the landscaping industry the opportunity to stay in business and have the workforce that they need.”
The path forward
The measure was introduced by Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas; David Joyce, R-Ohio; William Keating, D-Mass.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; and Andy Harris, R-Md. This summer will be very important to the future of H.R. 3897, as bill advocates try to get it attached to a house appropriations bill and get it passed through the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.
“The bill still needs a Senate sponsor,” says Bray. “We are going to use the August recess as an opportunity to build awareness so we can hit the ground running when they return this fall and possibly attach it to a larger bill that can be passed in late 2021 or early 2022.”
According to Bray, the landscaping industry as a whole has been extremely supportive of the efforts of his association to get H.R. 3897 passed, as they have received more than 30,000 messages of support from industry members, vendors and other allies.
“Our industry is hyper engaged, and we just conducted a virtual fly-in of 150 meetings in 10 days to further that engagement,” says Bray. “Nobody wants to install this bill in parts; we need a whole solution to solve this worker shortage crisis.”