07/17/2017 1:51PM

Federal government to grant more visas to guest workers


The federal government will issue an additional 15,000 visas under its H2-B visa program this fiscal year, according to the Department of Homeland Security, a decision that may benefit trainers who rely on the program for backstretch help.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the decision on Monday, citing pressure from American businesses that contended that they were facing a shortage of workers. The industries that benefit from the guest-worker program include fisheries, hotels, and, to more limited degrees, industries such as racing.

The impact on the racing industry is expected to be limited, considering the new visas will only be available for workers through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. Most backstretch workers are hired for longer periods of time than seasonal workers sought by industries such as seafood processing and hospitality.

“It’s good news for maybe a handful of trainers under certain circumstances, but it certainly doesn’t resolve the issue,” said Alex Waldrop, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which lobbies the federal government on issues affecting the racing industry.

In May, Congress passed a budget bill allowing the Department of Homeland Security and the Labor Department to issue additional visas this year depending on an industry’s “economic need.” The current cap on the program is 66,000 visas, a quota that had already been reached at the time the bill was passed.

Trainers have long relied on the H2-B visa program for grooms and hotwalkers. While trainers have complained about the availability of backstretch workers for years, concern has mounted over the past 12 months due to anti-immigrant rhetoric from the presidential administration and its base.

In late June, eight backstretch employees at Indiana Grand were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The workers were allegedly undocumented immigrants who had outstanding legal matters.