H2B visa provisions remain intact as Congress passes budget

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: May 5, 2017

Legislation that will fund the federal government for fiscal 2017 passed Congress May 4 and includes the previously reported expansion of the cap on H2B visas for returning workers.

The $1 trillion spending measure was approved by the United States Senate a day before a government-shutdown deadline. It will fund the government through September of this year.

The Senate passed the bill on a 79-14 vote a day after the House of Representatives voted 309-118 to pass it.

The annual cap on H2B visas, which are key to finding backstretch workers in the Thoroughbred industry, was 66,000, and it was reached only 10 days into 2017. The budget bill allows the number to grow to 129,547 at the discretion of John Kelly, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association said relief from the cap would hinge on whether the department determines there is “economic necessity.” There is no mandate that all 129,547 visas be granted.

Racing industry lobbyists have made known the importance of the program to the workforce, and they plan to continue work on a long-term resolution to the visa program and immigration reform as part of the H2B Workforce Coalition.

The NTRA said the higher number included in the spending bill “represents the number of new and returning workers admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2007, which is the fiscal year when the highest number of H2B non-immigrants participated in the H-2B returning worker program.”