Castle urges visa exemtion

Congressman Michael N. Castle is joining forces with Maryland Congressman Wayne Gilchrest and 53 House colleagues to include language in the 2006 fiscal year Supplemental Appropriations Bill that he said would provide immediate relief to businesses affected after the statutory cap on seasonal work visas — known as H2-B visas — was hit for the second year in a row.

Specifically, Castle has signed a letter and is urging negotiators to allow employers to exempt returning, law-abiding, seasonal workers to return without counting against the national cap on such visas.

According to Castle, in 1990, Congress set a national cap of 66,000 on seasonal working permits (H2-B visas). Current federal law allows 66,000 workers to enter for short-term, seasonal work under the program during each fiscal year.

The cap was hit by Jan. 3, 2005, barring employers from hiring these temporary workers to meet seasonal labor needs starting later in the fiscal year. The legislation is designed to provide relief for this current situation, Castle said.

“From the poultry industry to tourism to landscape architecture, Delaware employers rely on temporary workers. I’ve heard from many small businesses who will be forced to lay off domestic workers if they can’t hire seasonal help,” Castle said.

The congressman also acknowledged increased security concerns that could impact the granting of visas.

“And so we face a difficult challenge here in Delaware and in the U.S. — we must find a way to balance homeland security, to weed out the potential terrorist threats and those that would do us harm, while supplying our industries with the workers they so heavily rely on,” he said.

But Castle argues that the H2-B visa is one method of increasing security.

“In addition to securing our borders, we must advocate programs that encourage immigrants to use legal methods. The H2-B visa is an effective way to track foreign workers and ensure they are here legally. My legislation requires background checks, ensures that workers are here only for a temporary period and most importantly, rewards temporary workers who follow the rules,” said Castle.

The language Congressman Castle is pushing for is included in the Senate-passed version of the 2006 fiscal year Supplemental Appropriations Bill, but not the House-passed version.

Castle is also a co-sponsor of legislation to accomplish the same goals, as follows:

• The legislation would exempt returning seasonal workers, allowing workers who received H2-B visas for the 2004 or 2005 fiscal years and were law-abiding to return and not be counted against the cap for the current year and the 2006 fiscal year.

• Based on past compliance with all legal requirements of the program, the returning workers will be given another opportunity to return to work in what Castle described as “essential positions” for small businesses across the country, after all other stringent requirements have been met by the petitioning employer.

• In addition, Castle said, the bill will ensure that the cap will be divided more equitably in the future by providing half of the available visas to fall/winter business while reserving the other half for employers with later seasons.

• At the same time, the bill would expand anti-fraud efforts permanently by increasing anti-fraud fees paid by employers and by strengthening the severity of sanctions for abuse.

• Employers are only able to petition for temporary workers under the H2-B category after all options for hiring American workers have been exhausted. Employers relying on these workers must first certify to the Department of Labor that: 1) there are no U.S. applicants willing to take these jobs; 2) the foreign worker will not adversely affect the wage rate and working conditions for U.S. workers in the same jobs; and 3) H2-B workers must be paid the prevailing wage for their positions.

• The language prevents expanded immigration through the use of legal guest workers who return to their countries of origin each year, Castle said.

• The legislation would expire Oct. 1, 2006.