Issue Update 1/4/19

Ghosts in the Machine-Demand for H-2B Visas Crashes DOL iCERT system

Overwhelming demand for H-2B seasonal guest workers resulted in a system crash of the iCERT system which is currently inoperable. The Department of Labor has stated:

“Within the first five minutes of opening the semi-annual H-2B certification process on January 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor iCERT system had an unprecedented demand for H-2B certifications with more than 97,800 workers requested in pending applications for the 33,000 available visas.”

In addition to the system crash, the current demand surpasses the number of available H-2B visas. It’s important that FRA members continue to reach out to Congressional members and request support for H-2B cap relief.

The H-2B Coalition, of which FRA is a member, has created a link that will allow you to contact your House and Senate members. Click here to access the letter.

Government Shutdown

FRA’s priority policy to fix the shortage of H-2B visas is mixed in with the standoff on the border wall. The language we need to address the shortage of H-2B workers noted above, must be passed with the Department of Homeland Security’s appropriations bill. The delay is causing havoc for FRA members that rely on guest workers.

As of today, the current government shutdown ranks as the 4th longest in the past 40 years. Ahead of it the 2013 shutdown (16 days, Obama), the longest shutdown that started in December 1995 (21 days, Clinton) and one that began September 1978 that lasted 17 days during the Carter Presidency.

Yesterday, the newly sworn-in House of the 116th Congress passed two bills that would end the partial government shutdown. The first measure provided funding to the Department of Homeland Security, while the second measure approved funds for the remaining six agencies through the remainder of the year. Neither measure addresses the problem for guestworker visas or funding for the border wall which is critical to obtain the support of President Trump.

Federal Timber Sales to Continue

Another growing concern over the shutdown is the impact it will have on Forest Service timber sales critical to many FRA members in regions that rely on this fiber supply. The Forest Service regions were provided prior-year funding to allow some timber sales to continue during the government shutdown. It is not clear how long this funding will last. A letter sent to Regional Foresters from Forest Service leadership stated the following with respect to timber sales.

“Timber harvesting projects, timber sale contracts, stewardship contracts [IRTC], and Good Neighbor Authority projects may continue as long as cash obligations and payment guarantees are in place. New financial obligations and new contracts will be allowed on a case-by-case based on the availability of funding and personnel. Sales with sufficient payment guarantees already in place shall be allowed to open new payment units.”