On Jan. 3, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it has received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the H-2B cap for 2008. This was before many potential amusement industry workers were even eligible to apply for an H-2B visa, since applications may be received no earlier than 120 days prior to the date of entry.
For the past 15 years, a variety of factors have hampered U.S. employers' ability to find and hire American workers for short-term positions. Teenagers, traditionally a plentiful source of labor for seasonal businesses such as amusement parks, are increasingly seeking out internships, advanced summer school classes, and cultural exchanges instead of getting summer jobs.
H-2B workers come to the U.S. for a limited period of time and must leave in a timely manner in order to be eligible to return to the United States to work in the future. These foreign workers are critical to staff IAAPA members’ businesses and help them provide safe, quality entertainment for hundreds of thousands of American families.
Only 66,000 visas are issued each year, which are often completely claimed before the amusement industry hits its peak season. To help fulfill the need for additional temporary workers, Congress established a program that exempted returning workers who have received an H-2B visa during the previous three fiscal years from counting against the 66,000 cap. Despite the efforts of IAAPA’s Government Relations department, this program expired at the end of FY 2007.
Reinstatement of this provision is critical to the amusement industry. If it isn’t addressed soon, facilities may face a drastic labor shortage this summer. IAAPA is continuing its lobbying efforts on this issue on Capitol Hill. In fact, it will most likely on the agenda at the IAAPA Legislative Summit in March. Unfortunately, since many legislators have threatened to block any immigration legislation that does not address Comprehensive Immigration Reform, it looks unlikely that the H-2B proposal will see any action this year.
IAAPA members should be advised that if they have relied on H-2B visas for seasonal workers in the past, they should start pursuing other avenues for this summer.