Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Unemployment picture could dim H2B expansion hopes

Proponents of the H2B seasonal guest worker program keep pushing for a Congressional fix that would expand the 66,000 visas now allotted to the program, giving U.S. companies access to more foreign-born laborers. Whether Congress, faced with much bigger issues, will revisit the Save Small Business issue is unknown. But there’s always hope. (Click on the headline to keep abreast of the issue.)

It’s almost certain U.S. businesses won’t need as many of these workers this season, considering the state of the economy. With unemployment approaching 7% in most parts of the country and expected to keep climbing, more U.S. citizens may start to look at a job operating a mower or laying paving blocks in a more favorable light.

Two experienced landscape company owners we’ve talked to this week — one in the Northeast and one in the Midwest — told us the same thing. Business was going along nicely until the fourth quarter last year. Then the bottom dropped out. Both said they ended up on the positive side of their 2008 projections and both said they’re confident they will remain profitable this year.

To that end, they’re taking aggressive steps to reduce overhead. This will probably mean reducing the number of their employees, laborers mostly. Sales people and account managers are safe. They’re too hard to replace.

If unemployment continues to rise, you’ll see increased pressure from anti-immigrant groups not to expand the H2B seasonal immigrant guest worker program. It will be harder and harder for legislators to ignore these voices. So, if your company needs these workers, partner up with Save Small Business and keep the pressure on your legislators. — Ron Hall

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