While participation numbers in the H-2B Seasonal Worker Visa
program, which the industry relies on for backstretch workers, face an
uncertain future with a new president and Congress preparing to take office in
January, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association is working with
like-minded industries to get the message out about the need for such workers.
In a spending bill, Congress did not renew a one-year
expansion of the H-2B Seasonal Worker Visa program Dec. 8, that in 2016
effectively increased the number of such available visas to 198,000. Under the rules
of the Returning Worker Exemption, if seasonal workers had received an H-2B
Visa in 2013, 2014, or 2015, their 2016 visa did not count toward that cap.
Without the expansion of the program through the Returning Worker Exemption
approved with bipartisan support in 2015, the number of H-2B Visas made
available is capped at 66,000 annually. The H-2B Visa allows workers to stay in
the U.S. for 10 months at a time.
The NTRA, which advocates for the industry in Washington,
D.C., will meet with other industry leaders that have need for seasonal workers
in January to consider options, including another opportunity to renew the
expansion of the program or making sure needs are addressed in comprehensive
"There are some important groups that we can work with.
We are part of an H-2B coalition that is made up of many similarly situated
industries like hospitality, hotels, horticulture, landscaping, non-agricultural
industries," said NTRA president Alex Waldrop. "Even President-elect
Trump uses the H-2B program at some of his hotels."
The potential problem with comprehensive legislation is that
it could be a drawn out process and in the meantime H-2B Visas would stay
capped at 66,000.
"The concern we're seeing expressed is that many in
Congress want this dealt with in an immigration bill and not through the
continuing resolution process," Waldrop said. "That presents new
hurdles because a comprehensive solution to immigration problems would be very
difficult to accomplish in this Congress, from what we've seen today."
Without the expanded numbers, the government issues 33,000
H-2B Visas from October through March and then the other half from April
through September. The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective
Association said the H-2B Visa program addresses an industry need.
"Finding seasonal labor to take care of our horses will
become a nightmare without these men and women," the National HBPA said
before the Dec. 8 spending bill.
"It's not clear what the next step is
going to be," Waldrop said. "We do know that there is a lot of
interest in the industry about addressing the problem. We will be looking
closely at the alternatives starting early in the next Congress, which starts