Louisiana’s congressional delegation were successful in getting exemptions for H2B "returning workers” included in the recently passed $1.3 trillion spending bill that funds the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2018.
"We’ve supported a returning worker exemption for some time and we’re grateful our members of Congress were able to get it in the spending package,” said Jim Simon, manager of the American Sugar Cane League. "We’re hopeful they’ll make a good case with the Secretary of Labor who has the power to actually grant the exemption.”
Simon explained Louisiana’s sugarcane industry suffered from the inability to get critical H2B labor into sugar mills for an early start to last year’s harvest. As a result, milling activities dragged on into mid-January just as a killing freeze was hitting the state. Sugar mills operating in mid-January were able to avoid freeze losses by cooperating with each other to hasten the end of harvest.
"If the mills had been able to get their essential H2B employees in September, harvest could have started and finished earlier,” Simon said. "Louisiana’s delegation understands the pressing need for variances in the H2B program and they’ve done a great job in educating Congress with this concern.”
A returning worker is one who has been employed in the United States within the previous three-year period. Currently the H2B visa program is capped at 66,000 per year and only 33,000 are allowed into the country during a six-month period, but more than 80,000 H2B visas are requested each year. In addition to sugar mill workers, crawfish and seafood processors, landscapers, and a Ponchatoula candy factory among others are affected by the H2B program. These temporary, seasonal jobs can be offered to legal immigrant workers only after numerous attempts have been made to hire domestic workers.
Photo: St. Mary Sugar Mill (ASCL file photo)