Ex­tra H-2B visas a re­lief to some

Hir­ers say jobs hard to fill; crit­ics see Amer­i­cans slighted

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - ALEXIA ELEJALDE-RUIZ

CHICAGO — When Ruben Chavez’s land­scap­ing com­pany needed ex­tra man­power this summer to lay pa­tio and drive­way pavers, it ap­plied to hire tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers through the gov­ern­ment’s H-2B visa pro­gram.

But the an­nual cap for such visas had been reached and the ap­pli­ca­tion was de­nied. Chavez es­ti­mates his com­pany, based in sub­ur­ban Chicago, missed $100,000 in po­ten­tial con­tracts as a re­sult.

Now Chavez has an­other shot. Us­ing pow­ers granted it by Con­gress, the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity an­nounced in July that it would is­sue an ad­di­tional 15,000 H-2B visas for jobs start­ing be­fore the end of Sep­tem­ber, on top of the 66,000 per­mit­ted an­nu­ally by law, to em­ploy­ers that would suf­fer “ir­repara­ble harm” with­out the sea­sonal help.

Many em­ploy­ers that rely on ex­tra work­ers for their busy summer months say the move comes too late to make a dif­fer­ence. But Chavez, who was of­fer­ing $15.30 an hour for six paver lay­ers to work June through

Novem­ber, says he plans to ap­ply for the new batch to try to sal­vage what’s left of the sea­son.

Many of the green lawns blan­ket­ing Chicago’s suburbs owe their mulching, mow­ing, plant­ing and prun­ing to H-2B work­ers, who are brought to the U.S. by em­ploy­ers to fill low-skill nona­gri­cul­tural jobs they say they can’t find Amer­i­cans to do.

In Illi­nois, nearly 60 per­cent of the H-2B visas cer­ti­fied by the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor so far this fis­cal year were for land­scap­ing and groundskeep­ing work­ers, greater than the 45 per­cent share na­tion­ally. Amuse­ment park and car­ni­val work­ers are the sec­ond largest H-2B cat­e­gory in Illi­nois, though na­tion­ally visas for maids and house­keep­ers take the No. 2 spot.

The con­tention that Amer­i­cans won’t do those types of jobs is a source of con­stant de­bate that flared again with the an­nounce­ment of the ex­tra visas, which came dur­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “Made in America” week. Even Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., is seek­ing to hire house­keep­ers, cooks and servers through the H2B pro­gram.

But with the un­em­ploy­ment rate high­est among less-ed­u­cated Amer­i­cans, crit­ics of the H-2B pro­gram say em­ploy­ers aren’t try­ing hard enough to fill these


Em­ploy­ees of Jimenez & Sons Land­scap­ing who are in the United States on H-2B work visas haul gravel for a project in Le­mont, Ill., on July 20.

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