H-2B bill meets resistance in the House

On April 1, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) introduced a measure that would send directly to the House floor a bill that would raise limits on visas for foreign workers in seasonal industries—such as construction and landscaping—and almost double the number of workers who can enter the U.S. on temporary H-2B visas, according to www.workforce.com. Republican lawmakers say this bill could help businesses that are suffering because of a work force shortage.

The 66,000 limit for H-2B visas was hit in early January. In 2007, 120,000 workers entered the U.S. because the workers returning to their jobs didn't count against the 66,000 limit, but that provision expired this year.

Boustany references the labor shortage issues in Louisiana for construction firms and rice, sugar and shellfish producers.

"They can't find the work force," he says. "They depended on H-2B visas over the years to meet these needs. This is good policy that's being held hostage by politics."

Although Republicans want to push the H-2B visa through to the House floor as quickly as possible, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) is working on a different bill that would restore the returning worker provision.

Another force working against the Republicans' bill is the close examination of the H-2B program. Some foreign workers who have come to the U.S. on H-2B visas say the program exploits workers by luring them to the U.S. with false promises. A portion of these workers held a briefing for congressional staff on April 1, describing poor working and living conditions and saying employers can take advantage of H-2B holders because of the constant threat of deportation.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, appears skeptical of the H-2B visa program, introducing a bill that would increase the transparency of H-2B jobs, make employers jointly liable for the actions of recruiters and impose heavy fines for misconduct.

For Boustany's bill to bypass committee action and go straight to the House floor, Boustany needs 218 House members to sign a "discharge petition."

Date : 4/9/2008