*UPDATE 3-29-19*

On March 29, the Office of Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released the following statement:

“The H-2B nonimmigrant visa program allows U.S. employers who meet specific statutory and regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. There is a statutory cap on the total number of foreign nationals who may be issued an H-2B visa or otherwise granted H-2B status during a fiscal year. Under section 214(g)(1)(B) and 214(g)(10) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended (INA), Congress has set the H-2B cap at 66,000 per fiscal year, with a maximum of 33,000 available during the first half of any given fiscal year and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year. Section 105 of Div. H of Public Law 116-6, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, was signed into law by the President on February 15, 2019. This fiscal year, for the third year in a row, Congress delegated to the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to allocate visas above the 66,000 cap if the Secretary determines, after consultation with the Secretary of Labor, that the needs of American businesses could not be satisfied with U.S workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor. After consultation with Secretary Acosta and carefully weighing several factors, including whether U.S. workers may be harmed, and impact statements from your constituents, Secretary Nielsen has decided to allocate an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for the remainder of fiscal year 2019. Further, this supplemental visa allocation will be available only to applicants who have held H-2B status in at least one of the past three fiscal years (2016, 2017 and 2018). Details on eligibility and filing requirements will be available in the temporary final rule and on uscis.gov when the final temporary rule is posted for public inspection. As Secretary Nielsen has stated, Congress is in the best position to know the “right” number of H-2B visas that American businesses should be allocated without harming American workers. DHS is committed to ensuring that our immigration system is implemented lawfully and that American workers are protected. We look forward to working with Congress so it can set an appropriate numerical limitation moving forward.”

Of course, there is still more work to do in order to create a permanent solution but at least for now, some companies may get the workers they need for the season.

The visas will be available after a short public comment period, expected to last a few weeks.

*END OF UPDATE*

What’s the biggest problem with a lawn maintenance company?

If you said labor, you’re correct. Labor’s the hardest thing to get in this industry.

So what’s the solution? For CLIP Lawn Care, we’ve traditionally hired workers with an H-2B visa.

Step 1: The H-2B Visa Defined

If you’re unfamiliar with H-2B labor, it’s a visa that you can get to bring in foreign workers to do seasonal temporary work that American workers don’t want to do.

You’ve probably heard quite a lot about this on the news, especially since we’re coming off of the holiday season. However, for this industry, our busiest time is coming soon.

2019 marks the third year we’ve spent battling with the government over H-2B visas. As you can imagine, there’s a lengthy process to getting this done.

Step 2: Apply To Recieve H-2B Workers

To get started, you must apply with the Department of Labor in your state. After that, you have to apply to the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). After completing a mountain of paperwork, you’re thrown into a pool.

As you can gather from the name, being in the pool is basically in a group of a ton of other people – 33,000, to be exact. The actual number of H-2B visas issued each year varies wildly, and GOP senators are hoping to increase the number of visas issued this year.

Step 3: Hope to Beat the Odds

The pool opened on January 1st at midnight, and, as you could’ve guessed, the entire website crashed.

Nobody was able to put in applications, including ourselves. The servers didn’t come online until January 6th at 2 in the afternoon.

In less than seven minutes, however, the majority of the visas were already applied for. We managed to put our applications in at 2:15, which means we’re likely not getting any workers this year yet again.

We’re far from the only company in this situation.

The Shortage

Prior to the election of Donald Trump, Congress chose to let the Returning Worker’s Exemption expire. The benefit of the Returning Worker’s Exemption was if you had an H-2B worker from the previous three years, his visa wasn’t counted toward the 33,000 visas that were allowed each year.

We were unaware that the Returning Worker’s Exemption wasn’t renewed, so instead of 260,000 guest workers coming into the United States to work, we only got 33,000.

With the Returning Worker’s Exemption off the table, we were unable to keep any previous employees. Subsequently, our application was denied for any new employees.

We weren’t the only one in this situation, either. This was an issue across the board and had a large impact on the hospitality industry, specifically in hotels and food preparation.

Hotels in places that had high seasons, such as Nantucket Island, were suddenly unable to get H-2B workers, and there were no workers to be had. American workers typically don’t want these types of jobs.

As a direct result of the economy getting better, unemployment numbers have plummeted. This makes it even more difficult for us to find workers.

This created a huge problem for us.

We didn’t initially get our H-2B workers, and we had 550 lawns that needed to be mowed. We did manage to hire around 30 people, but by the end of the season, we were down to just 2.

Right after the height of the season, we finally got our H-2B workers, but by then, the damage was already done.

What’s being done to fix the limitations of H-2B visas?

Congress is working on fixing this situation. Hopefully, we’ll get the Returning Worker’s Exemption back.

If nothing else, we’re hoping the limit of H-2B visas issued is increased substantially. Thanks to the Returning Worker’s Exemption ending and the severe limitation on the number of visas issued, many companies are either hanging on by a thread, or they’ve already gone out of business.

Hypothetically, if you were able to get H-2B workers, you’d use a service such as Mass Labor. This service will help you through the whole process of getting workers.

The workers come from Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Venezuela, and other countries. Sure, there’s costs involved – a few thousand dollars for each worker. However, what you get from these workers is an extremely strong work ethic.

They’re not going to complain about the heat or working long hours. If anything, they’re going to ask for more hours. And they most especially appreciate what they can make on Piecework.

The H-2B visa is a beautiful system. The amount of work H-2B workers do couple it with the dollars per hour report you can get through a time tracking software like CLIP, you can become extremely profitable with minimal management on your part.

The Current State of Labor and the H-2B Visa in the Lawn Care Industry