The U.S. Department of Labor just announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 4.9 percent.  That’s both good news and bad news. 

The good news is that the economy is basically at full employment.  Most workers who want to find a job can be successful in their quest. 

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The bad news for employers is that it can be difficult to find enough employees to grow their businesses. 

This especially true for small businesses that are more seasonal in nature, companies that need temporary workers for their most busy times of the year. 

And it accentuates the need for seasonal worker visas, known to employers as H2B visas.  Sadly, the federal government is growing increasingly hostile to this important program, putting at risk American jobs. 

The H2B Program is a small but necessary part of the American economic landscape, helping to create and sustain U.S. jobs.  It is a legal visa program, and shouldn’t be considered as part of the immigration debate, because these workers return to their countries of origin after the season is done. 

The H2B Visa Program complements the U.S. workforce.  It doesn’t compete with it.   The number of H2B visas is capped at 66,000 per year, while there are approximately 122 million Americans employed full-time in the United States. (H2B workers account for less than one-tenth of one percent of U.S employment.  Yet, every H2B visa helps sustain 4.6 American jobs.

H2B visa jobs are temporary and seasonal and tend to involve tough manual labor. The jobs are essential to keeping many small businesses running during peak season, but American citizens don’t see them as highly desirable jobs.  That is especially true when the unemployment rate is at 4.9 percent.

The H2B program relies on workers who come to the US for seasonal employment and then go home. These are not immigrant workers.

The landscaping industry is the largest employer of H2B workers. Other sectors that depend heavily on the program include the crabbing industry on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the hospitality sector on Nantucket, ski resorts in Colorado, the fishing industry in Alaska, and forestry operations in all 50 states. In addition to hiring H2B workers for seasonal jobs, all of these industries also hire U.S. workers, both during their peak seasons and year-round.

The H2B Visa program protects American and foreign workers by placing stiff requirements on the employers who use the program.

Employers must prove they cannot find local US workers to fill the jobs. The US Department of Labor must certify the need for workers and set the amount temporary workers are to be paid, ensuring H2B workers don’t undercut American workers.  The H2B program protects temporary foreign workers from abuse by extending to them critical worker protections including the right to overtime pay and workers’ compensation.

Most of H2B workers express high satisfaction with their jobs and their pay. In fact 82 percent of H2B visa holders are returning workers – proof that they are treated well.

Complicated Federal requirements make it harder for small businesses to comply and add costs to the bottom line for these employers. 

President Obama’s Department of Labor has dramatically slowed the processing time for these visas, making it more difficult for employers to plan for the future.  Without many of these seasonal employees, many of these Mom and Pop businesses might have to close their doors.

It’s good news that we are now at full employment.  The Federal government should do all it can to make certain that small businesses that need seasonal workers have the ability to use the H2B program.  It’s an important way to keep the economy growing and keep America at full employment. 

Hickman is chief executive officer with the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Savoia is interim chief executive officer at AmericanHort.