Visa rules create shortage of seasonal workers

Spring is in the air and so is uncertainty when it comes to temporary guest workers filling seasonal jobs through the H-2B visa program. 

“This year I have 13 people that I need to bring in,” said Judy Ogden, President of Ogden’s Design & Plantings. “They’re my staff that runs my crews for my company. If I don’t have them I don’t have workers.”

And without workers - it’s nearly impossible for Judy Ogden to run her landscape design business. 

The H-2B visa is part of a non-immigrant program that permits employers like Ogden to hire foreign workers. 

She, along with many other East End business owners, always applied early to make sure they could secure their seasonal staff. However in 2017 the policy changed and the government started using a lottery system.

Since then it’s become more difficult to predict whether or not businesses  will get the workers they need. Help Wanted signs only illustrate a small part of what’s become a big problem.  

"They come in April and leave in December," Ogden said. "They will come in legally, they will be documented with drivers license and paying taxes."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has already notified employers nationwide that the 66,000 worker cap for 2019 has been met.  Officials are calling on the Secretary of Homeland Security to lift the cap so businesses can get through peak season.

Congressman Lee Zeldin who supports President Trump’s policies on illegal immigration says these workers are documented and the jobs are not being filled by Americans. 

"Here we are in middle of March and employers do not know if they’re going to have their workforce for their businesses on the North Fork and South Fork," Rep. Zeldin said. 

Ogden’s message to Washington is, "It’s small businesses getting hurt, we rely on workers here or there and all the visas need to be released."

Local officials estimate there are well over a thousand seasonal workers still needed to help fill the void and that's just in Suffolk County.