Guest-Worker Advocates Hail New H-2B Visa Rules – SF Chronicle – 2/11/12

Guest-worker advocates hail new H-2B visa rules

The Labor Department on Friday unveiled rules that reshape a program for foreign migrants in work other than agriculture, which officials said would strengthen protections for those workers and also spur recruitment of Americans for such jobs. It was the latest move in a protracted battle between employers and the Obama administration over the nation’s temporary guest workers.

The rules make important changes across the program, which is known as H-2B. The changes were hailed by advocates for guest workers, who said they would make it more difficult for businesses to exploit vulnerable foreign migrants and hire them to undercut Americans.

But reflecting the divisions over the program, employers who use it regularly said the new rules, which will take effect April 23, would make the process too slow and cumbersome for their seasonal businesses.

“This is another log in the road to derail the whole industry here,” said Jack Brooks, a crab processor from Chesapeake Bay in Maryland who is a member of a group of employers in the H-2B program, the Coalition to Save America’s Seafood Industry.

The H-2B program has long been used by many kinds of seasonal, mostly small, businesses, including seafood fishermen and processors, amusement parks, hotels and landscapers.

Under the new rules, the Labor Department will create a nationwide electronic registry where employers must post all jobs they are seeking to fill with H-2B workers. Also, the recruitment period of Americans is expanded, requiring employers to hire any qualified local worker who applies up to three weeks before the start of an H-2B contract.

The Labor Department also ended a labor market certification process that allowed employers to simply assert that they had searched for U.S. workers. Now employers will have to consult formally with State Workforce Agencies to demonstrate that they could not find Americans for the jobs.

For the first time, employers will be required to pay foreign workers for three-quarters of the period of a contract, even if there is no work for the migrants to perform. This provision was greeted by employers with particular alarm.

The rules will “ensure that the program is used as intended by making these jobs more accessible to U.S. workers and providing stronger protections for every worker,” Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a statement.

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