05/05/2017 10:11AM

Congress passes budget bill allowing increase in nonagricultural visas

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Both houses of Congress have approved a budget bill that will allow for an increase in the number of nonagricultural visas issued this fiscal year, a provision considered important to the racing industry.

The Senate passed the bipartisan budget bill Thursday night, several days after the House of Representatives passed the same bill, largely unchanged from the original budget agreement reached between Republicans and Democrats on Sunday night. Passage of the bill allows the government to avoid a shutdown prior to a Friday deadline.

The current cap on nonresident, nonagricultural visas is 66,000, a number that had been reached early this year, according to the American Horse Council, a Washington-based organization. The budget bill allows that cap to rise to 130,000 visas at the approval of the secretary of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor, depending on an industry’s “economic need.”

The budget bill covers the rest of the 2017 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Racing lobbyists are expected to push for a permanent increase in the cap during the next budget negotiations.

The largest number of the visas are issued to workers in the hotel and landscaping industries, but the racing industry relies on a large number of the visas for stable workers, such as grooms and exercise riders. Many horsemen had grown concerned over the past several months that the visa program would be restricted this year because of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the presidential administration and its political base.