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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton arrives for a Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON -- The decision by President Donald Trump's administration to allow 30,000 additional temporary guest workers into the country was welcomed Tuesday by several Arkansas employers and industry groups, who say the extra help is desperately needed.

While enjoying support, particularly from Arkansas foresters and landscapers, the move has drawn opposition from U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who argued that the jobs should be going to Americans.

Cotton traveled to the White House with other lawmakers Tuesday afternoon to discuss immigration matters with Trump and other high-level officials.

In April 2018, the Arkansas Forestry Association and the Arkansas Timber Producers Association signed a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging them to raise the cap on H-2B visas, which had been set at 66,000 workers.

They were joined by hundreds of other entities, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and at least 10 Arkansas business and industry groups.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it would issue the additional visas, arguing that U.S. businesses would likely "suffer irreparable harm" without the change.

Businesses say the labor market is unusually tight.

The percentage of Americans seeking jobs has fallen since Trump took office. Unemployment has dropped from 4.8 percent in January 2017 to 3.6 percent in April -- the lowest it has been in a half-century.

The Immigration and Nationality Act allows for short-term worker visas to be issued when "unemployed persons capable of performing such service or labor cannot be found in this country."

Unlike the H-1B visa program, for foreigners with specialized skills, the H-2B visas can go to workers with few skills or formal training.

The Department of Labor had certified petitions for 133,815 of the H-2B visas before the end of fiscal 2018, supporters of the program said in their April 2018 letter. The cap for fiscal 2019, which ends Sept. 30, was reached by the end of February.

Max Braswell, executive vice president of the Arkansas Forestry Association, said the visas are a crucial source of short-term employees.

"We plant millions of seedlings annually, here in the state and across the United States, and seasonal workers have long been a primary source of labor for that," he said.

In Arkansas in 2016, H-2B certification was granted for 1,212 forest and conservation workers. Another 568 certifications were processed for landscaping and groundskeeping crew members, according to the Labor Department's Office of Foreign Labor Certification.

Signers to the 2018 letter included the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Arkansas. The Alotian Club was also listed.

In a written statement Monday, Cotton questioned the administration's decision to grant additional H-2B visas.

"Our immigration system should prioritize the needs of U.S. citizens over cheap foreign labor," the lawmaker from Dardanelle said. "Allowing an additional 30,000 seasonal workers into the country forces Americans to compete for jobs against non-citizens who drag down wages. We should be setting immigration policies that support wage growth and employment for Americans instead of encouraging a race to the bottom by importing low-cost labor."

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said changes to the existing system are needed.

"President Trump wants a common sense, lawful and safe immigration system that Americans, and those wanting to become Americans, have deserved for a long time," he said.

A Section on 05/08/2019

Print Headline: Groups, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton divided on guest-workers plan


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Archived Comments

  • Knuckleball1
    May 8, 2019 at 7:23 a.m.

    Tommy Boy needs to realize that people in the State of Arkansas are not going to do those jobs that the Latin American Work Force is going to do. He is living in a Fantasy World and does not have a clue.

    Tomato Farmers in South Arkansas started bringing in help over 40 years ago because the locals got to where they thought working in the fields was beneath them.

    Since then it has spread to other Farm Operations and even Construction Jobs, Tommy Boy needs to get out of his Ivory Tower and visit the Real World.

  • Skeptic1
    May 8, 2019 at 8:02 a.m.

    Cotton is an embarrassment to Arkansas, he is neither conservative nor remotely competent to represent our state.

  • hah406
    May 8, 2019 at 8:25 a.m.

    If there were American citizens to take the jobs, the jobs would already be filled. I have an idea. Why doesn't Tommy haul his white butt out of D.C. and into the fields to pick the tomatoes and cut the timber himself. Bet he would decide we need those workers pretty damn fast.

    May 8, 2019 at 9:03 a.m.

    If we didn't gut unions and would actually pay laborers and farmworkers living wages, there would be competition for the jobs. But as long as companies are allowed to pay minimum wage or under the table wages for labor, you will only get the destitute and desperate who don't otherwise qualify for welfare.

  • GeneralMac
    May 8, 2019 at 9:43 a.m.

    HAHA406....." and cut the timber himself"

    Did you bother reading the article?

    The Timber companies want those guest workers to " plant seedlings".

    Nothing is mentioned about " cutting timber"

  • davisdds
    May 8, 2019 at 9:45 a.m.

    The only reason companies want to hire H-2B workers is to increase their profits by using cheap labor. Hire americans and pay them a fair wage. The H-2B is another way that entices illegals to come to our country.

  • GeneralMac
    May 8, 2019 at 9:49 a.m.

    I see no problem with allowing guest workers as SEASONAL workers in agriculture when there is a huge demand for labor for a SHORT period of time.

    What I do object to is mega dairy operations being built when there already is a SURPLUS of milk and those people wanting guest workers to be their labor force YEAR AROUND.

  • Bullgod1984
    May 8, 2019 at 10:23 a.m.

    Davisdds, h2b visas cant go to illegals, so...

  • hah406
    May 8, 2019 at noon

    Mac, plant it, pick it, cut it, whatever. My point remains the same, or perhaps that was lost on you. Cotton knows not of what he speaks.

  • GeneralMac
    May 8, 2019 at 12:09 p.m.

    "cut it" never was mentioned as a REASON timber companies needed guest workers.

    "cut it" is not seasonal