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NRCA issues a statement for the hearing on the H-2B visa program, April 2008

Statement of the National Roofing Contractors Association
to the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee
on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law
for the Hearing on the H-2B Visa Program

April 16, 2008

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) commends Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren for holding a hearing to review the H-2B visa program and greatly appreciates the opportunity to submit a statement for the record. NRCA strongly supports H.R. 1843, the "Save Our Small and Seasonal Business Act of 2007," that has been introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak and currently has 148 bipartisan cosponsors. NRCA believes it is imperative that Congress approve this legislation as expeditiously as possible on order to avert labor shortages that could force roofing contractors and other businesses to scale back operations during the peak employment season this summer.

Established in 1886, NRCA is one of the nation's oldest trade associations and the voice of professional roofing contractors worldwide. It is an association of roofing, roof deck, and waterproofing contractors; industry-related associate members, including manufacturers, distributors, architects, consultants, engineers, and city, state, and government agencies; and international members. NRCA has more than 4,600 members from all 50 states and 54 countries and is affiliated with 105 local, state, regional and international roofing contractor associations. NRCA contractors typically are small, privately held companies, and the average member employs 35 people in peak season, with sales of just over $3 million per year.

H.R. 1843 would renew the highly successful "returning worker" provision of the H-2B visa program through fiscal year 2012. This provision recognizes the reliability and trustworthiness of past participants in the H-2B program by exempting temporary seasonal workers from counting toward the statutory annual cap of 66,000 visas if the workers have participated in the program and have completely followed the law during at least one of the preceding three federal fiscal years. The returning worker exemption, which was initially approved by the House and Senate (on a vote of 94-6) in 2005, is sound public policy that is beneficial to the U.S. economy and has strong bipartisan support in Congress.

Employers who depend upon the H-2B program to provide essential workers for their peak season this summer now face a crisis situation because Congress has failed to act on a returning worker extension for FY 2008. Currently, the number of H-2B visas for FY 2008 has dropped by nearly 50 percent from the previous year, and the 66,000 statutory cap was reached on January 2. The congressionally mandated 66,000 visa cap, which was established in 1990, does not reflect current economic realities and fails to meet the needs of businesses which are seasonal in nature or have peak load requirements that rely on temporary H-2B workers.

Employers who utilize the H-2B program must undertake a variety of requirements in order to ensure that guest workers do not take jobs away from American workers and also to protect guest workers employed in the program. Every year, employers go to great expense to advertise job openings, work with local unemployment offices to identify potential American workers and offer the positions to qualified domestic applicants. If domestic workers cannot be found after undertaking this time-consuming and expensive process, employers may then petition the federal government for a labor certification to bring in temporary workers through the H-2B program. When utilizing the program as a last resort to obtain workers to operate their business, employers must complete applications for temporary workers that are processed by four different government agencies that fully vet the applicant and ensure that the applicant's temporary employment will not adversely affect the domestic workforce.

NRCA has strongly advocated congressional enactment of comprehensive reform of our nation's immigration laws for many years, including the comprehensive bill that failed in the Senate in 2007. NRCA supports comprehensive immigration reform that contains three essential components. First, it must strengthen our national security by increasing control of the borders and improving enforcement. Second, it must address the problem of undocumented immigrants currently residing and working in the United States — a population that now accounts for approximately 5 percent of our nation's workforce. And third, it must provide a new legal channel for essential workers to enter our nation temporarily so that the incentive to come illegally to work is greatly diminished. The increasing reliance of employers on the H-2B program, and the fact that the statutory cap has been greatly exceeded for the past several years, supports NRCA's position that our immigration system as a whole must be reformed to meet the economic and security needs of our country.

However, if the 110th Congress is not able to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the long-term security and economic needs of our nation, as appears to be the case, it must act immediately to extend the H-2B returning worker provision for FY 2008. Many employers that have depended upon H-2B returning workers over the past three years, and have already spent valuable resources this year anticipating these workers, will be completely left out of the program if Congress fails to enact legislation to extend the returning worker exemption for FY 2008 within the next few weeks. This will result in adverse economic consequences for roofing contractors and other employers who rely upon the H-2B program to provide essential workers to fill jobs that otherwise will go unfilled. Given the current economic uncertainty, particularly in the construction industry, faced by employers, congressional action on the H-2B returning worker provision is especially critical at this time.

NRCA strongly urges the House to approve H.R. 1843 or at least a one-year extension of the returning worker exemption before the fast-approaching peak employment season in the roofing industry. This is absolutely necessary in order to avert acute labor shortages in some segments of our industry. NRCA also opposes the addition of new bureaucratic hurdles or requirements to the H-2B program that could make the already cumbersome certification process unworkable for employers. However, NRCA is always open to considering practical and constructive proposals that build upon the already extensive protections afforded to workers who participate in the program.

NRCA commends Rep. Stupak and the cosponsors of H.R. 1843 for their outstanding leadership in support of extending the returning worker exemption for the H-2B program. NRCA also commends Rep. Charles Boustany for his efforts to force Congress to take up this legislation by filing a discharge petition on the bill. NRCA looks forward to continuing to work with members of Immigration Subcommittee and other members of Congress to ensure the enactment of the H-2B returning worker exemption as soon as possible.

Thank you for your careful consideration of NRCA's views on this vitally important issue.

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