LEXINGTON, Ky. (Thursday, February 1, 2018) – Citing the signature horse industry’s increasing difficulty in finding enough workers, the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) is asking Kentucky’s Congressional delegation for support in getting cap relief for H-2B visas as well as rejecting any measure that would decrease those non-immigrant visas.
KEEP represents all horse breeds and disciplines throughout Kentucky. Whether it’s a racing stable, show barn, riding program, boarding facility, sales consignor or horse farm, the inability to get enough help threatens those businesses’ economic health and hamstrings the ability to grow.
The National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, which represents almost 30,000 Thoroughbred owners and trainers throughout the United States and in Canada, stands with KEEP in its letter to Kentucky’s U.S. senators and representatives, said Eric Hamelback, the National HBPA’s chief executive officer.
The H-2B visa program is critical for seasonal and small businesses lacking sufficient domestic workers to adequately staff the unskilled and entry-level positions vital to their success. The H-2B visa program allows those businesses to supplement their American workforce with well-vetted returning workers who come to the United States for up to 10 months of seasonal employment before returning home.
The H-2B program currently has a Congressionally-mandated cap of 66,000 visas for the entire country. The horse world competes with seafood processing, roofing and construction, landscaping and golf courses, carnivals and state fairs, food concessions and fast food, forestry, stone quarries and a myriad of other industries for those visas.
Exacerbating the situation is Congress’ failure to fund continuation of the exemption allowing those granted H-2B visas to return to America for more seasonal work without counting toward the 66,000 cap. The first half-year cap of 33,000 visas for Fiscal Year 2018 was reached on Dec. 15. The second half of the cap begins April 1, with the United States Department of Labor already receiving 92,576 requests as of a week ago.
Research shows that every H-2B visa creates and sustains 4.64 American jobs.
“It is difficult to see how Kentucky’s horse industry escapes harm without the cap being lifted,” Elisabeth Jensen, KEEP’s executive vice president, wrote on behalf of her board in the letter to Kentucky’s Washington contingent.
“Kentucky is leading the country when it comes to the horse industry and its economic impact. With nearly 100,000 jobs, more than 242,000 equines and 35,000 horse operations in Kentucky today, we are confident about the future of the industry and its positive trajectory for the future. However, without a lift in the cap of H-2B visas, that future is in danger. I hope that you will take on this issue and work to benefit all Kentuckians by ensuring a full workforce for the industry that has the No. 1 impact on the state’s economy.”
Jensen said KEEP is pushing for long-term labor solutions through recruiting and retaining a home-grown workforce. Remi Bellocq, executive director of equine programming at the Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s North American Racing Academy, will chair a new KEEP workforce development task force, she said.
KEEP asks industry participants and horse enthusiasts to contact Washington, including through social media, about the H-2B program’s critical role. Kentucky residents can go to horseswork.com/advocacy to send a message (prepared or personalized) to their U.S. Representative as well as Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.
The H-2B Workforce Coalition recommends using the Twitter hashtag #saveH2B and tagging @SecretaryAcosta (Department of Labor), @DHSGov (Department of Homeland Security), @USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and @WhiteHouse. KEEP encourages Kentuckians to tag @SenMajLdr (McConnell), @RandPaul and @RepAndyBarr, with Lexington Congressman Andy Barr a co-sponsor of H.R. 2004, the Strengthen Employment And Seasonal Opportunities Now (SEASON) Act.
The Kentucky Equine Education Project is a not-for-profit grassroots organization created in 2004 to preserve, promote and protect Kentucky’s signature multi-breed horse industry. KEEP is committed to ensuring Kentucky remains the horse capital of the world, including educating Kentuckians and elected officials of the importance of the horse industry to the state. KEEP works to strengthen the horse economy in Kentucky through our statewide network of citizen advocates and our foundation, which has awarded more than $700,000 to local Kentucky equine organizations. To learn more about how you can become a member or make a contribution, please visit www.horseswork.com.