This week our H2B Visa seasonal workers arrived. They were oriented, provided basic training, and we are now FULLY STAFFED for spring with a team of 300. Of the 60 H2B workers, 40 are returning from last year, assisting helping us provide the Portland area's most experienced workforce. While many in ours and other labor intensive industries struggle to retain staff, the H2B visa program and our employee centric culture has kept us fully staffed these past years during record low unemployment.
As you know, we are a strong advocate of the H2B Visa Program as a vital resource for seasonal businesses like ours to staff documented, motivated workers to support our year-round staff. This program is still controversial and has come under attack, but we proudly use and support the program and hope to retain it and expand it. We were lucky to get these visas this year as the program allows only 66,000 visas per year while the certified need more than doubled that number.
For nearly a decade, we have utilized this guest worker visa program to fill our seasonal labor positions. Not only does it ensure that our seasonal labor force is legal, it provides us a very stable and motivated workforce. Some of these H2B workers have returned year after year bring their experience back each year. In the current immigration debate environment, programs such as H2B are subject to criticism and are at risk of being lost. Some say it takes away opportunity for American workers or suppresses wages but with our local unemployment rate at 3.1% and the required H2B wage of $16.84/hr, neither is true. As a part of the application process, employers must prove the inability to attract local workers at that prevailing wage.
As a board member of The National Association of Landscape Professionals, NALP and member of the National Hispanic Landscape Association, NHLA, Bob has traveled to Washington DC many times to lobby for the program.
While the country is embattled in an immigration debate, we stand firm in our support of respect and honor of our immigrant workforce. America is country built by immigrants and while we need to improve our immigration laws, the fear and hatred off immigrants is unfortunate and wrong.