Rental businesses of all types employ both skilled and unskilled labor. Some rental businesses that have heavy seasonal demand also employ temporary guest workers under the current H-2B visa program. The rental industry is a service industry that needs a reliable supply of labor to meet the demands of the public for rental equipment. On September 30, 2007, the returning worker provision of the H-2B visa program expired. The returning worker provision allowed any worker holding an H-2B visa for any of the three previous years to be considered a returning worker and exempt from the annual cap of 66,000 H-2B visas.
Several ARA members have utilized the H-2B visa program that allows temporary unskilled workers to enter the United States and work for periods of generally less than one year. H-2B visas are limited to 66,000 per fiscal year (October 1- September 30) and applications by employers for the visas cannot be made more than 120 days prior to the employee entering the U.S. to begin working. Many rental businesses, and especially those in the party and event rental segment of the industry need temporary labor in the peak summer season. In recent years the growing demand for temporary workers outstripped the supply of H-2B visas and frequently the quota of 66,000 was exhausted before businesses that needed the workers in the summer were even able to apply. Seasonal allocation of H-2B visas was required as demand for H-2B visas increased. However, seasonal allocation did not keep the overall annual demand for H-2B visas from exceeding the 66,000 cap. Legislation was passed and went into effect in fiscal year 2004 allowing returning H-2B visa holders to be exempt from the cap. With the expiration of the returning worker provision many rental businesses are facing a summer season with no workers to provide the labor needed for their businesses. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has introduced S. 988 the “Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2007” that would reauthorize the returning worker provision for an additional five years beginning October 1, 2007. Senator Mikulski has 44 Senators cosponsoring S. 988. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has introduced a similar bill, H.R. 1843 in the House of Representatives. H.R. 1843 would make the returning worker provision permanent. H.R. 1843 has 148 cosponsors in the House.
As a member of the H-2B Workforce Coalition, ARA supports an extension of the returning worker provision of the H-2B visa program. We strongly support passage of S. 988 and H.R. 1843.