MIAMI, Fla. — The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance (NHLA) applauds the introduction of the Strengthen Employment and Seasonal Opportunities Now Act (H.R. 3918), introduced by Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) and Congressman Charles W. Boustany, Jr., MD (R-LA).

The legislation would reform the H-2B temporary non-agricultural visa program and provide landscape business owners with the certainty they need to hire seasonal workers in high demand. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate early last week by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Mark Warner (D-VA).

Under current immigration law, the H-2B visa program is specifically designed to assist employers by providing temporary visas for foreign workers to assist with seasonal workloads. The H.R. 3918 streamlines the H-2B visa program by removing the Department of Labor (DOL) from the regulatory process. Instead, the program will be administered solely by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency charged with leading immigration enforcement.

To protect American jobs, the bill requires employers to certify to the DHS that they have attempted to recruit domestic workers and have offered the same terms and working conditions to foreigners that they offered to the domestic workforce. Additionally, the legislation does not permit employers to improperly lay-off American workers and replace them with foreign workers. Currently, the program’s annual cap of 66,000 H-2B visas is often reached early in the year, leaving many employers unable to meet their seasonal employment needs.

The livelihood of more than a half million U.S. Hispanic families depends on the landscape industry, in part because it is Hispanic Americans that are best able to lead H-2B workers and ensure that they perform their duties efficiently and safely. Today, U.S. Hispanics make up more than 35 percent of the landscape industry workforce, and more than 17 percent of landscape companies are owned by Hispanics; both of which double the U.S. national average rate of the Hispanic population and ownership.

“The NHLA has many members struggling to meet client demand because they can’t get sufficient labor. Others, frustrated by the manner in which the administration has dealt with the H-2B visa program, have elected to shrink their operations and shed year-round jobs,” said Ralph Egües, NHLA’s executive director. “We are delighted that Congress is coming to the aide of reputable small seasonal businesses and their employees.”

The bill would adjust the way seasonal workers are calculated under the H-2B cap, increasing the availability of visas by not counting a returning H-2B worker against that year’s cap, if a visa was granted to that worker in the three prior years. This approach places the emphasis on encouraging proven successful participants to return to the program.

The legislation also contains important taxpayer protections, including a prohibition on temporary foreign workers receiving federal benefits, including Affordable Care Act subsidies and refundable tax credits. Additionally, to ensure that the program is truly a temporary program, H.R. 3918 requires that any position being filled by a foreign worker will last no longer than one year and occur within a peak season.