UPDATED 2/14/2019 at 12:52PM
Ahead of Friday's deadline to pass a budget to keep the government open for 2019, it is being reported that Democrat and Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives drafted a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of 2019 and expect President Trump to sign off on it.
Pertaining to H-2B visas, the official language of the bill gives the Department of Homeland Security the ability to issue an additional 69,320 H-2B visas at their discretion. This is the same language that was included in the FY2017 and FY2018 DHS bills. During each of the last two years, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued an additional 15,000 visas.
In an interview last May, Nielsen said:
"We are once again in a situation where Congress has passed the buck and turned a decision over to DHS that would be better situated with Congress, who knows the needs of the program. As Secretary, I remain committed to protecting U.S. workers and strengthening the integrity of our lawful immigration system and look forward to working with Congress to do so," Nielsen added in her statement.
“Congress gave me the discretionary authority to provide temporary relief to American businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of available temporary workers,” Kelly said at the time.
Currently, the department of labor is continuing to process labor certifications for the second half of the cap for workers beginning on April 1. Approximately 73,000 applications have been certified to date for the 33,000 available H-2B visas.
As details emerge, we will keep you informed.
The H-2B labor issue is not a carnival problem, it's not a concessionaire problem, and it's not a fair problem. It is an industry problem that ultimately effects each sector that defines the fair industry. We are all in this together!
As of January 29, 2019, nearly 50% of all Fair Industry H-2B applicants will most likely NOT receive their requested 3,000 H2B foreign skilled labor workers. This includes carnivals, concessionaires and gaming concessions totaling over 175 Fair Industry Employers nationwide. Recent events out of Washington, including the longest government shutdown in the history of government shutdowns, has stalled efforts to approve language that could have increased the current annual H-2B worker cap of 66,000 to 132,000. Paralleling the shutdown was 2 separate iCERT crashes on December 31st and January 7th. These government website crashes forced late timestamps on applications that nearly guarantee employers will not receive H-2B workers. “With the Department of Labor stating that they will process via strict first-in, first-out policy, what this means is that due to the demand for visas (3 times as many applications as visas that are available) then those that were delayed by the server issue will be capped out for the second half of the fiscal year.” (Judkins, James K. Jan. 29, 2019.)
OABA's legal obligations to H-2B well exceeds $350,000 annually. Fairs, concessionaires and exhibitors will all feel the devastating effects without the necessary labor required to move, set up and operate carnivals and concessions. For over a decade, the NICA Board of Directors has successfully voted to support these efforts with financial contributions, lobbying efforts, calls-to-action and sharing the message publicly at industry forums. The primary need for continued support in addition to financial contributions is ACTION!
“The language that needs to be included in a bill to solve the H-2B Cap Issue, either for this season or on a permanent basis, must be included in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. Which is the most contentious bill, as this is the one that would (or would not) have the “WALL”, or Fence, or “Border Security”.
To work out the language of the bill that the Senate and House will be writing and presenting to the President for his signature on February 15, 2019 is a Committee of 7 Senators and 10 Members of the House of Representatives.
Please heed this call to action and make the call, send the email, write the letter.
Throughout the past few years we have periodically communicated with you when our friends at OABA and NICA have requested assistance in contacting federal legislators about the H2B visa situation. To recap the situation, many mobile amusement operators – your carnival company – and some mobile food vendors must have access to ready labor in order to operate at your event. You know your own labor market, but generally, there is no ready source of local, US citizen labor willing to work in these environments. H2B Visa labor – where the operator works with thoroughly vetted companies in other countries to provide temporary labor specifically to assist the carnivals (as well as many hotels, fisheries, timber work and landscaping workers across the country) – has been an excellent source of this labor, but the numbers allocated are insufficient.
The federal government has put such limited caps on the number of these visas that some carnivals cannot operate at full capacity. There is currently support in Congress to raise that cap as part of the negotiations for the FY Department of Homeland Security Budget. There is an urgency to get this action done before February 15. You can help convey the seriousness of this situation -- and how there is potential impact to your fair (and the good work you do in your community – providing opportunities for youth, supporting community non-profits, providing scholarships, etc.) by reaching out to your US Representative and your Senators as quickly as possible and ask them to include the Tillis/Harris bill in the final DHS appropriations bill.
You can reach your elected officials through the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Once connected to your Representative or Senator's office ask to speak to the person who handles H-2B issues. Please make these calls today!A key message point: "This important H-2B cap relief must be included in any final FY 2019 appropriations bill. The current labor shortage is having a devastating impact on the mobile amusement operators who serve our fair as well as other seasonal industries that require workers to continue to operate and stimulate a growing economy."