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Harmful H-2B Visa Program Language Removed from Labor Appropriations Bill

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 16, 2021) ― United States Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) on July 15 offered an amendment to the fiscal year 2022 Department of Labor Appropriations bill to remove certain sections from the bill that would have made it difficult for employers to use the H-2B visa program. During committee consideration, the amendment passed yesterday by voice vote.

Specifically, the amendment struck sections 116, 177 and 118 from the bill. The language in those sections would have:

• Prohibited industries from using the H-2B program if they experienced unemployment in any of the previous 12 months over 10 percent;
• Prohibited construction industries from using the program even in seasonal locations or occupations;
• Increased the baseline for wages to at least 150% of the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher;
• Required wage compliance with a collaborative bargaining agreement for your industry in your area, even if you are not a party to the agreement;
• Banned participation in the program for labor/workforce related infractions outside of the scope of the H-2B program.

“Thank you to all who contacted their Representative regarding this issue,” said NTRA president and CEO Alex Waldrop. “We also are grateful to Rep. Harris for offering the amendment to eliminate the language that was so threatening to employers, like horse trainers, who use the H-2B visa program.”

The H-2B visa guest worker program is a nonimmigrant visa program used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horse racing industry, trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backside positions.

H-2B Visa Program Faces Severe Threat from Department of Labor Appropriations Bill

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 14, 2021) ― The U.S. House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the fiscal year 2022 Department of Labor Appropriations bill on Thursday, July 15, and language within the bill could devastate the H-2B visa program. The NTRA urges industry members to contact their Representative immediately and ask for this language to be removed from the bill.

The language of concern appears on pages 46-50 of the bill and would make the H-2B visa program difficult for many employers to use. Specifically, the draft bill would:

• Prohibit industries from using the H-2B program if they experienced unemployment in any of the previous 12 months over 10 percent;
• Prohibit construction industries from using the program even in seasonal locations or occupations;
• Increase the baseline for wages to at least 150% of the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher;
• Require wage compliance with a collaborative bargaining agreement for your industry in your area, even if you are not a party to the agreement;
• Ban participation in the program for labor/workforce related infractions outside of the scope of the H-2B program.

“This appropriations bill contains alarming language for any business or industry that relies on the H-2B visa program to operate,” said NTRA president and CEO Alex Waldrop. “We ask trainers and others in horse racing to contact their Representative today to help get this language removed.”

As suggested by the H-2B Workforce Coalition, of which the NTRA is a member, industry members should:

Call your Representative today and ask him or her to urge the House Appropriations Committee leadership and their Party Leadership to remove Sections 116, 117 and 118 of Fiscal Year 2022 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee Appropriations Bill before the legislation is considered by the Appropriations Committee on Thursday. You can reach your Representative through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121. Once connected to the office, please ask to speak to the staff person who handles Department of Labor appropriations.
Send an email to your Representative using this link

The H-2B visa guest worker program is a nonimmigrant visa program used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horse racing industry, trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backside positions.

Additional H-2B Visas Available for 2nd Half of Fiscal Year 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 25, 2021)— The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a joint temporary final rule that was published today in the Federal Register and offers 22,000 additional H-2B visas to employers for the second half of the federal fiscal year that ends on September 30, 2021. These visas are used by employers, such as racehorse trainers, who seek seasonal guest workers. They are capped at 66,000 annually, with an even split of 33,000 available for each half of the federal government’s fiscal year. Six thousand of these supplemental visas will be reserved for nationals of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“The 22,000 H-2B visas offered through this rule issued by the DHS and DOL will be helpful to employers who rely on the H-2B visa program, including trainers, but many more of these visas are ultimately required to satisfy the need,” said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. “For that reason, the NTRA, through its involvement in the H-2B Workforce Coalition, supports additional relief from the burdensome annual H-2B visa cap through a permanent returning worker exemption.”

Employers can find eligibility and filing details here.

This past December, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 became law and included a provision that provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the discretionary authority to release an additional 64,176 H-2B visas when significant need is demonstrated. The NTRA supports all efforts to make additional visas available to seasonal businesses struggling with labor issues.

The H-2B visa guest worker program is a nonimmigrant visa program used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horse racing industry, trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backside positions.

Demand for H-2B visas often exceeds their availability and the cap level is quickly reached, leaving employers in need. For the second half of federal fiscal year 2021, DHS announced that by February 12 it had received enough H-2B worker petitions to reach the congressionally mandated cap of 33,000 visas allotted.

Additional H-2B Visas Soon To Be Available For Trainers During 2nd Half of Federal Fiscal Year 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 20, 2021) ― The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Labor have agreed to offer 22,000 additional H-2B visas to employers for the second half of the federal fiscal year that ends on September 30, 2021. These visas are used by employers, such as racehorse trainers, who seek seasonal guest workers. They are capped at 66,000 annually, with an even split of 33,000 available for each half of the federal government’s fiscal year. The additional visas will be made available later this spring or early summer via a temporary final rule in the Federal Register.  Six thousand of these visas will be reserved for nationals of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“We are pleased to learn that additional H-2B visas will be available for trainers soon and applaud Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh for this action,” said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. “At the same time, the NTRA supports relief from the burdensome annual H-2B visa cap through a permanent returning worker exemption and urges both departments to reform the program accordingly, enabling affected employers to stabilize their businesses.”

This past December, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 became law and included a provision that provides the DHS with the discretionary authority to release an additional 64,176 H-2B visas when significant need is demonstrated. The NTRA, through its involvement with the H-2B Workforce Coalition, supports all efforts to make additional visas available to seasonal businesses struggling with labor issues.

The H-2B visa guest worker program is a nonimmigrant visa program used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horse racing industry, trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backside positions.

Demand for H-2B visas often exceeds their availability and the cap level is quickly reached, leaving employers in need. For the second half of federal fiscal year 2021, DHS announced that by February 12 it had received enough H-2B worker petitions to reach the congressionally mandated cap of 33,000 visas allotted.

Omnibus Legislation Will Allow Current H-2B Visa Provisions To Continue

A series of current H-2B visa program provisions are set to continue as part of omnibus legislation passed Monday by Congress.

  • H-2B visa program policies set to continue include:
  • Authority for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL), to increase the H-2B cap for fiscal year 2021 by up to approximately 69,000 visas if it determines that the needs of seasonal businesses cannot be met with U.S. workers;
  • Continuation of the use of private wage surveys for prevailing wage determinations;
  • A prohibition against DOL enforcing the corresponding employment and three-quarters guarantee provisions of its H-2B regulations relating to total work hours; and
  • Provisions extending the maximum employment season for up to 10 months, as opposed the nine-months in current DOL regulations.

The H-2B visa guest worker program is a nonimmigrant visa program used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horse racing industry, racehorse trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backside positions. Demand for H-2B visas often exceeds their availability and the cap level is quickly reached, leaving employers without sufficient help.

The NTRA, through its involvement with the H-2B Workforce Coalition, supports efforts for comprehensive reform of the guest worker visa program.

 

Guidelines For H-2B Exceptions Published By U.S. State Department

The U.S. Department of State on Wednesday published guidelines providing exceptions to a June 22 proclamation by President Donald Trump suspending entry into the United States of foreign nationals applying for certain visas, including H-2B visas acquired by trainers for many backstretch workers. With limited exceptions, H-2B workers have been unable to enter the U.S. since the presidential proclamation took effect on June 24.

The guidance provides exceptions for, among others, “nonfarm animal caretakers” – the category used by trainers applying for H-2B visas for immigrant workers. New and renewal visa applications that were being processed or were submitted when the proclamation went into effect will be re-evaluated. Consular officers will look at whether the applicant was previously employed and trained by the petitioning employer under two or more H-2B visas; is traveling based on a temporary labor certification reflecting continued need by the employer; and whether denial of an H-2B visas would create a financial on the employer.

The full guidelines can be read here.

Trainers should consult with H-2B legal advisers for more specifics on the guidelines.

Homeland Security to Issue 35,000 Additional H-2B Visas

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 5, 2020) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier today communicated to Congressional offices its intent to release 35,000 additional H-2B visas for the summer season of Fiscal Year 2020. This nonimmigrant visa program is used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horse racing industry, racehorse trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backside positions.

While DHS has not yet released a final rule outlining specific details, the agency has provided the following:

  •  Federal regulators will release the supplementals in two phases. The first batch of 20,000 will be available for employers requiring start dates  beginning April 1, and 15,000 to those having start dates beginning May 15.
  •  DHS will “generally limit” issuance of supplemental H-2B visas to returning workers “who are known to follow immigration law in good faith.”
  •  And in a first-time effort to align visa policy with the Administration’s border security goals, DHS will award 10,000 supplemental visas to citizens of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, countries DHS has designated as “key Central American partners” on border security policy.

“We are pleased that the Administration and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf decided to allocate an additional 35,000 H-2B visas for the remainder of fiscal year 2020,” said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. “Hopefully, this will provide relief to horse trainers who continue to struggle to hire foreign workers for backstretch positions that U.S. citizens are not filling. While this number of supplemental visas is 5,000 greater than in Fiscal Year 2019, it is likely to fall short of demand.”

H-2B Visa Program Relief Expected to be Signed Into Law

Bill would allow more access to H-2B visas.

 

Horse trainers who utilize the H-2B guest worker visa program to fill various backstretch positions will likely have increased access to those visas as a result of language included in the 2020 spending bill passed by Congress this week and expected to be signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 20.

The bill gives the secretary of homeland security the discretion to release additional visas above the statutory cap and also includes related labor provisions that have been in place for several years.

 

Read BloodHorse Article

Dept. of Homeland Security Announces Plans to Allocate 30,000 Additional H-2B Visas in Current Fiscal Year

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this week communicated to Congressional offices that it would allocate 30,000 additional H-2B visas for the current fiscal year that concludes on September 30, 2019. This nonimmigrant visa program is used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horse racing industry, racehorse trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backside positions.

“We applaud Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen for her decision to allocate an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for the remainder of fiscal year 2019,” said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. “This will provide relief to horse trainers desperate to hire foreign workers for backstretch positions that U.S. citizens are not filling. While the number is probably not sufficient to meet the demand, it is decidedly better than the 15,000 additional H-2B visas issued in the last two fiscal years.”

Below is the complete statement from DHS:

________________________________________________________________________________

The H-2B nonimmigrant visa program allows U.S. employers who meet specific statutory and regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs.  There is a statutory cap on the total number of foreign nationals who may be issued an H-2B visa or otherwise granted H-2B status during a fiscal year. Under section 214(g)(1)(B) and 214(g)(10) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended (INA), Congress has set the H-2B cap at 66,000 per fiscal year, with a maximum of 33,000 available during the first half of any given fiscal year and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year.

Section 105 of Div. H of Public Law 116-6, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, was signed into law by the President on February 15, 2019. This fiscal year, for the third year in a row, Congress delegated to the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to allocate visas above the 66,000 cap if the Secretary determines, after consultation with the Secretary of Labor, that the needs of American businesses could not be satisfied with U.S workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor.

After consultation with Secretary Acosta and carefully weighing several factors, including whether U.S. workers may be harmed, and impact statements from your constituents, Secretary Nielsen has decided to allocate an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for the remainder of fiscal year 2019. Further, this supplemental visa allocation will be available only to applicants who have held H-2B status in at least one of the past three fiscal years (2016, 2017 and 2018). Details on eligibility and filing requirements will be available in the temporary final rule and on uscis.gov when the final temporary rule is posted for public inspection.

As Secretary Nielsen has stated, Congress is in the best position to know the “right” number of H-2B visas that American businesses should be allocated without harming American workers. DHS is committed to ensuring that our immigration system is implemented lawfully and that American workers are protected. We look forward to working with Congress so it can set an appropriate numerical limitation moving forward.

Thank you.

Office of Legislative Affairs

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

NTRA Provides Updates on Industry Issues

An NTRA legislative briefing held Thursday, Aug. 10 at Fasig-Tipton Sales Paddocks provided updates on a diverse range of topics impacting Thoroughbred breeding, racing, and handicapping.

NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop and Greg Means, principal and CFO at The Alpine Group, which represents the NTRA and the industry’s lobbying interests in Washington, D.C., provided updates on a range of topics, including:

Federal Withholding & Reporting – Long-sought Treasury and IRS regulations that modernize federal withholding and reporting of pari-mutuel winnings have resulted in a 90-95% reduction in the filing of IRS Form W-2Gs. The changes have led to a drastic reduction in the reporting and withholding of winning wagers, which in turn has helped fuel handle increases. During the first six months of 2018, overall handle increased 5.5%. Average handle per race day in 2018 has increased 8.7% through June (vs. a 3.7% gain in all of 2017). Overall, U.S. pari-mutuel handle in 2018 is on course to exceed $11 billion for the first time since 2010.

Tax Reform – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that became law in December 2017 contains a number of incentives that promote investment in Thoroughbred breeding and racing. Among the many positive changes included in the bill were:

•    An increase in immediate expensing to 100% and expansion of the definition of “new property.” Buyers would be able to write off 100% of all horses purchased, including breeding stock, as long as the asset purchased has not been previously owned by the purchaser.

•    An increase in the Section 179 limit to $1 million from $500,000, and an increase in the cost of property subject to the phase-out to $2.5 million from $2 million, which would be beneficial to industry participants that generate net taxable income.

•    Inclusion of a new 20% deduction for certain pass-through business income. Owners of businesses such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, trusts and S corporations now may be able to deduct 20% of their qualified business income when filing their tax returns. Qualified business income includes domestic income from a trade or business but does not include employee income, capital gains, interest and dividend income. Additionally, business owners can combine their businesses into a single unit to claim the benefit, thereby making the process of filing more efficient and less costly.

Waldrop stressed the importance of each taxpayer consulting with his or her tax advisors to assess how the bill will specifically affect their operations.

Sports Betting – The Monmouth Park/New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Supreme Court victory put horseracing at the epicenter of sports betting. It also extends the industry’s reach from online wagering under the Interstate Horseracing Act–space it has occupied since 2000–into a vast new area of the American gaming market, where sports betting is estimated to be a $400 billion business. While the primary activity since the Supreme Court decision has been at the state level, Means noted that the major sports leagues, in particular, are already advocating on Capitol Hill for a uniform federal bill aimed at consumer protections, among other issues. Means projected that it is unlikely that Congress will consider any legislation on this topic this year. However, the issue will likely arise in more force in 2019. Both Means and Waldrop noted that Thoroughbred racing must be aggressive in defending its interests relating to Sports Betting and be ready to take advantage of new opportunities on Capitol Hill should they arise.

Credit Card Transactions Involving Advance Deposit Wagering (And, Potentially, Sports Betting) – While many banks permit Visa and MasterCard credit cards to be used in funding an Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) account, up until this year four of the largest banks that are significant card issuers have refused to allow this legal use. In January, JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s largest issuer of credit cards, began allowing this activity and the NTRA continues to work with the three other large banks to secure a reversal of their exclusions.

The same challenges to ADW wagering may affect those who seek to fund sports betting accounts via credit card, meaning that those in our industry who offer ADW and sports betting will have multiple banking issues.
On the same front, ADW wagering is being blocked by search engines such as Google that do not readily turn up direct links to horseracing betting sites, but simply link to informational stories about wagering or horse races. The advent of sports betting will change this landscape rapidly, again posing potential threats–and opportunities–for the Thoroughbred industry.

Immigration – There is strong disagreement on Capitol Hill over Immigration policy. Efforts earlier this summer to pass immigration bills failed and it is unlikely that Congress will take any major action on Immigration prior to the November elections. Thoroughbred trainers continue to face major labor shortages due to a lack of H-2B visas available to backstretch employees. While comprehensive immigration reform will be necessary if Thoroughbred racing is to receive the relief it needs from the current guest worker program, Waldrop and Means acknowledged that such reform is not likely to occur in the near term due to the current political environment in Washington.

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