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National Restaurant Association - NRA says new H-2B rules could render the program useless

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NRA says new H-2B rules could render the program useless

The National Restaurant Association released a blistering assessment yesterday of how a proposed rewrite of rules governing the H-2B visa system could make it nearly impossible for restaurants to use the program.

The H-2B visa system is nearly 25 years old. It allots 66,000 visas a year businesses can use to recruit individuals from outside the United States to fill temporary or seasonal jobs when they are unable to locate enough U.S. workers to fill these critical positions.

The U.S. Department of Labor in March proposed far-reaching changes in the program. Among the DOL's draft changes: The new rules would require employers to continue to recruit American workers up to three days before their H-2B employees are scheduled to start work; apply restrictive H-2B work rules to non-H-2B workers whose tasks overlap with H-2B employees; and set extensive new requirements for employers to apply for visas. Some experts say the new application and review procedures could triple the time it takes the federal government to process applications.

Restaurants are big users of the H-2B program. A typical restaurant with a need for H-2B employers is in a resort area where there is a shortage of available U.S. labor. Smaller employers located in rural or isolated areas far from major population centers often don't have access to a significant labor supply.

In comments filed with the DOL yesterday, the NRA said that the proposed changes, combined with new DOL rules on calculating pay for H-2B workers, could render the H-2B program "virtually unusable by all but the largest and wealthiest companies."

"The excessively burdensome requirements by the Department will adversely affect honest H-2B employers with legitimate temporary and seasonal needs for additional labor by driving up their compliance costs and micromanaging their business operations."

The NRA's comments to DOL included the results of research the NRA commissioned through ImmigrationWorks USA on the economic impact of the DOL rules.

"The consequences for U.S. workers will be exactly the opposite of what the Department of Labor intends," according to the ImmigrationWorks report included with the NRA’s comments. "Rather than opening jobs for Americans and improving their working conditions, the new rule will force many H-2B employers to downsize or close, shedding U.S. jobs and generating less economic activity up- and downstream in the local economy."

"Employers who use the H-2B program are employers determined to play by the rules, resisting the temptations that draw many of their competitors to hire unauthorized workers. They are willing to pay extra, they are willing to let the government into their businesses. They comply with burdensome requirements and accept unappealable decisions by officials ... But at some point, these employers say, there is a limit. If H-2B requirements become too onerous, they will drop out of the program -- and when they do, they will have no choice but to close their businesses or shrink them, no alternative but to aim lower or come through with less for their customers."

Read the NRA's comments to the DOL, including the ImmigrationWorks USA report.

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