March 13 was the final receipt date for new H-2B worker petitions requesting an employment start date before Oct. 1, 2017. USCIS says it will reject any applications received after March 13 that request an employment start date before Oct. 1.
According to USCIS, current H-2B workers in the U.S. petitioning to extend their stay and, if applicable, change the terms of their employment or change their employers are exempt from the cap. Returning workers are still not exempt.
USCIS reached the first half of the 2017 cap in late January, much earlier than last year. The cap for the first half of 2016 wasn’t reached until March 15. The full 2016 cap was reached May 12.
“It’s extremely disappointing. It means that a number of our members are going to have to lay off full-time American employees and cut back on contracts. It has drastic implications for landscape professionals,” says Paul Mendelsohn, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. “It’s extremely frustrating. It also is counter to the entire philosophy we have heard about empowering American businesses to expand and prosper.”
Many landscapers rely on the guest worker program to find seasonal labor, but the program has become increasingly expensive and difficult to navigate. In 2015, the program shut down in the spring, when many companies need it the most.
Prior to 2016, guest workers who had previously been employed in the U.S. on an H-2B visa were exempt from the cap. But when the federal budget bill expired, the returning worker exemption expired with it.
“We’re continuing to work in Congress to emphasize the importance of the program and look for opportunities to extend the worker exemption for the 2017 fiscal year, and we're making progress,” Mendelsohn says.
Part of that work includes a fly-in and meetings with members of Congress March 21, an event organized by PES and other H-2B agents.