NTRA Working in Coalition on H-2B Worker Visa Program

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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 immigration legislation.

"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 in January."

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