Bills Introduced Regarding Foreign Workers

Bills have been introduced in the Senate and House to help resolve the problem of a cap on foreign workers.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it has received enough petitions to meet this year's Congressionally mandated cap of 66,000 new H-2B workers and would not accept any more petitions for such foreign workers until after Oct. 1, 2005.

"This affects alien workers in many industries, including those in the horse industry who work in semi-skilled jobs at racetracks, horse shows, fairs, and similar non-agricultural exhibitions, because it prevents them from being issued H-2B work permits," said Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council. "This will be an annual problem until it is finally fixed by Congress. While some of our semi-skilled alien workers received their H-2B visas this year, others did not, and more may not receive them next year. This cap forces industries to play musical chairs with the H-2B visa process. Each year some sector will be without a chair until the cap is raised or eliminated."

Several bills have been introduced to resolve the issue for this year. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) introduced the "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act" in both the Senate and House Feb. 11. This bill is supported by most of the affected industries, including the American Horse Council.

The bills would exempt returning seasonal workers from the cap for 2005 and 2006, meaning workers who used the H-2B program during the previous three years would not be counted against the annual limit.

The legislation would also require the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to immediately resume processing of H-2B applications for 2005 and allocate them so that the number of H-2B aliens entering the U.S. during the first six months of the year would not be more than 33,000. This is intended to ensure that employers who file for summer jobs have an equal chance of getting visas.

The bills call for an additional fee of $150 for each application to give the government agencies added resources to detect and prevent fraud and require the Department of Homeland Security to report to Congress on the number of H-2B visas issued and on the program so Congress can make an informed decision about the H-2B program.