You can build a truly “beautiful business” by hiring international lawn maintenance team members.
Hey Clippers! Dave Tucker here with a guide to H-2B, a government program that can help you hire lawn maintenance workers from other countries. It’s quite a process, but the rewards are worth it—and I’ll walk you through the details.
H-2B is a US Department of Labor program. It’s a legal way to hire folks from other countries to work for you on a temporary or seasonal basis. You can’t hire year-round employees, and you have to adhere to a few rules and deadlines.
First, let me clear upfront:
I’m not a lawyer. I’m just a guy who has successfully hired a lot of great workers through this program. Nothing I say here is legal guidance. I’m simply offering advice based on my experience. And my experience has been excellent.
Why is H-2B so great for lawn maintenance?
For starters, seasonal work is perfect for the lawn maintenance business. We tend to hire a warm-weather crew to mow, blow, and go. Once temperatures start falling, we bring in a cold-weather crew for snow removal. It’s a perfect strategy for the beautiful business.
But the seasonal convenience is nothing compared to the quality of the work. H-2B employees are truly unmatched. Here are my favorite things about the guys we’ve hired through H-2B:
- They have a great work ethic. We’ve really struggled to find local folks who are willing to work hard for a whole season. That’s not a problem with our H-2B guys. They are extremely dedicated and not afraid to work up a sweat to get the job done.
- They’re goal-oriented. Remember what I said about hiring people with entrepreneurial attitudes? A lot of these guys are looking to earn enough money to start their own businesses back home. Some of them dream of better lives for their children and families. They know exactly what they’re working toward, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there. That attitude makes for a fantastic employee.
- The relationships are rewarding. My company hired a lot of folks out of Mexico, where community and connection are very important to the culture. They want to help you, and they appreciate the help you give them. There’s a real morale boost when everyone is looking out for each other.
Have I convinced you yet? Let’s talk about the process.
How to apply for H-2B work visas for your lawn maintenance business.
Here’s my most important advice: Plan head. There’s a lot of paperwork and processing involved with getting H-2B visas, so don’t put it off. If you want your lawn maintenance team here in March, get started in September.
You can expect to spend about $3000-$4000 on this process. If you hire an attorney to help out, it’ll be even more. You don’t need a lawyer, but you do need to sift through a lot of detail and paperwork. Only you can decide what’s right for you.
One more tip: I recommend applying for 2-3 more visas than you think you’ll need. If one of your workers has a family emergency and has to leave early, you’ll have a backup.
Here’s another timely reason for applying for more: the government has to cap visa applications
1. Department of Labor wage determination.
You’ll need to fill out a prevailing wage determination form to determine fair pay. This will include a full description of the job, requirements, and other details. The Department of Labor will use this information to determine the minimum wage for your job.
2. Offer the job to local workers.
You need to do your due diligence with the local labor market before you can apply for H2-B visas. There are a few requirements here:
- Post ads with the local workforce agency and a local paper.
- Run ads on Sundays and one other day for at least 10 days.
I’m always very honest in my job postings. I don’t shy away from the fact that it’s hard work, and the weather isn’t always nice. This truthfulness pays off because it deters people who aren’t willing to stick with it. Of course, we do get a lot of unrelated resumes from people who just apply for everything. But it’s pretty easy to sort through these and dismiss them.
Sometimes you might find a really great local worker. That’s fantastic, and you should hire them. Just know that for every person you hire, that’s one less visa you’ll get.
If you don’t get any applications or enough good candidates, you can file a recruitment report.
3. Petition for visas.
At this point, you’re dealing with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You’ll need to file a petition called I-129. Keep in mind that even though the caps have increased recently, there’s still a limited number of H-2B visas available per year. If you want to claim any, you need to file well ahead of the deadline.
Interviews with workers are scheduled through the US Consulate in their home country. You’ll pay about $150 per person to cover the costs of fingerprinting and paperwork.
How do you hire the right people?
Hiring international team members is just like hiring local folks: Referrals are king. I’ll confess I had an advantage here: I grew up in Mexico. My parents were missionaries there, and I maintained strong relationships with people there well into adulthood. These friendships were key to finding the right workers.
If you don’t know anyone in countries that are eligible for H-2B visas, this can be tough. If you use a lawyer for this process, they might be able to make some recommendations. Otherwise, you might have to just hire a few people and hope for the best. Ask the best ones for referrals at the end of the season.
What happens when your H-2B workers arrive?
It’s important to have realistic expectations when your team arrives. Everything I said about the great work ethic and whatnot is true, but these guys are human. They’re going to experience some culture shock, and they’re going to need help from you to get settled. Be compassionate.
H-2B workers are responsible for their own living expenses. But I highly recommend helping them find somewhere to live. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just clean and comfortable. I usually set my guys up with some basic furniture, sheets, and other necessities. I also give them an allowance of $150 so they can pick up groceries and work boots.
Pay attention to other ways you can help your team. Culture shock can be pretty overwhelming, and they’re probably a little homesick too. Do what you can to make them feel welcome and build a friendship. Even just making the rounds to say hello and check in can make a big impact.
What about the language barrier?
We’ve mostly our lawn maintenance team members from Mexico and Central and South America, but countries all over the world are eligible for the H-2B program. Fluency in English is not a requirement, so language barriers are pretty much inevitable.
Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be a big problem. Here’s what I recommend:
- Make small cards for your workers with a message like this: “Sorry! I wish I could help you but I don’t speak English. What I will do is call my office and have someone there translate our conversation.” Your workers can show this to customers if there’s any need to communicate.
- Communicate with your workers via text. Then you can run messages through a translator and send them back. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done.
- Create forms that are translated into your workers’ native language. This way, they can just fill in numbers and still create estimates for customers.
- Pick the right software. CLIP has a translator module so you can include notes about specific customers in your workers’ language. This could be anything from “Don’t let the dog out!” to “Be sure to blow off the front step.” This tool makes it easy for your employees to do their best work.
If any of your workers express interest in learning English, help them out! Virtually anyone can benefit from speaking a second language, so I always support that goal. A lot of churches or international centers will have ESL classes. Call around and see what you can find.
One final comment: I’m not going to get into the politics of immigration, but I will say that I do not recommend hiring illegal laborers. I know a lawn maintenance company that had 60 illegal laborers on staff. 35 of them were deported in one fell swoop. The ramifications were significant. Bottom line: Don’t do it.
Overall, I’m a big fan of the H-2B program. The paperwork can be a pain, but it’s worth it. We’ve hired so many excellent lawn maintenance team members this way, with great results for our customers and our business. If you’re looking to grow your lawn maintenance business and connect with a new culture, check it out.