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Equestrian industry feeling the impact of H-2B visa changes

– by Susan E. Hill, June 6, 2016

Beginning in 2015, the equestrian industry has been jolted by changes to the H-2B temporary visa program.  Competition stables and farms used to rely on the H-2B visa for their foreign workers during competition season: grooms, riders, and other temporary personnel.   Now more than a year after the initial changes, it’s becoming clear that this visa no longer is viable for many employers and workers.

Changes to the H-2B program began when it was challenged in a federal court lawsuit in 2015, and the program was put on hold temporarily.  This disrupted many business owners’ schedules, and they could not get H-2B visas for their workers in time.  Now that the program has resumed, new rules have made the application process too expensive and too lengthy for realistic purposes.

First, the H-2B visa is valid for only a 9-month work period, which does not cover the full competition season.  Second, the new procedures require employers to publish lengthier recruitment ads in printed newspapers, increasing the employer’s costs.  Third, the application process now undergoes enormous scrutiny, with the government requesting additional information and documents throughout.  It is virtually impossible to anticipate what information and documents will be requested, and these requests cannot be avoided.  Not only do these requests increase employers’ costs, but they also result in significant delays.  Fourth and most distressing: employers cannot apply early to give time for these government delays.  In other words, once the visa application is filed, it locks in the start date for employment, but government delays often push the case well beyond that start date.  The worker does not get the visa in time, and when the visa is approved, its validity period has been shortened by weeks or months due to delay.

While these new rules are more burdensome and costly, employers should remember that the U.S. government is protective of American jobs, and is not eager to grant work visas to foreign nationals.   Employment visas are not a simple thing to obtain, and now the H-2B visa has almost no value for the equestrian industry.  This leaves employers with almost no options for the “average” groom, exercise rider, assistant trainer, etc.

Visit the USCIS page for more information on H-2B visas.   Visit Hill & Piibe’s page on Equestrian Immigration.

This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. It is intended for informational purposes only and must not be taken as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. Contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal issues and problems.

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