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 bat
low-skill jobs from the domestic labor pool.
“They don’t require a lot of experience, the pay rates seem decent, and certainly we know that there are a lot of teenagers and people in communities without a college degree who are not working,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for reducing immigration. “It would be nice if there were recruiters going after people like that.”
Employers counter that they do recruit locally but that there are not enough interested candidates to meet demand.
Chavez, whose family has owned Yuritzy RC Landscaping for 25 years, said people respond to ads the company posts in garden centers and publications. But once they discover the job entails hours of stooping in the hot sun, they leave to find less grueling alternatives.
“They only last a few weeks, and because the work is hard, they don’t come back,” Chavez said. Workers from Mexico, where most H-2B landscaping laborers come from, are often used to the conditions because they work on farms at home, he said.
Employers increasingly have been turning to H-2B visas to fill jobs, with companies in Texas, Florida and Colorado among the most avid users. Last year the Labor Department received 143,311 visa requests, a 13.6 percent jump from the prior year.
The visas are designated for seasonal or one-time jobs or to supplement existing staff to meet peak demand, and must offer to pay the prevailing wage for the specific job and location. Employers must attest that there aren’t enough U.S. workers willing or able to take the jobs, and post job ads on the state’s online job board and in newspapers seeking American candidates. After receiving certification from the Labor Department, they file petitions with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which grants the visas until the cap is reached.
In Illinois, where H-2B usage is moderate compared with other states, employers have requested 2,010 H-2B visas so far in the current fiscal year, which started last October, and the Labor Department has certified 1,878 of them. The greatest number went to two Chicago-region businesses: Acres Maintenance, a landscaping company with 220 visas certified at an hourly pay rate of $9.50 an hour, and Landscape Concepts Management, which got 119 at an hourly pay rate of $14.34. Neither company responded to calls.
Frank Jimenez, owner of Jimenez & Sons Landscaping in suburban Chicago, received 25 laborers from Mexico through the H-2B visa program this season, at a wage rate of $14.34 an hour, to supplement his staff of seven American workers. He pays for their transport to and from Mexico and provides housing, though he charges rent. Sixteen of them are living in a home he owns with five bedrooms and a basement.
Jimenez said that when he has hired locals, they find year-round jobs after the season ends and don’t return, or ask to work only two or three days a week, sometimes because they struggle to commute to the suburbs. Last year, Jimenez said, processing problems with the H-2B program held up his visas and he couldn’t find reliable workers to fill in.
“If we don’t have this type of workers, we probably wouldn’t have business,” Jimenez said.