“Deggeller Attractions has a family like atmosphere. I keep coming back because I have made friends for life here, plus I enjoy what I do! I am treated well, and I am respected,” says Chantelle Dockrall, an H2B Visa worker from South Africa, who has been with Deggeller Attractions for 7 years.
H2B Visas are an instrumental part of carnivals in the United States. Many carnivals have workers who benefit themselves, as well as their families, by coming to the United States for seasonal jobs. With the immigration policies and laws changing, the H2B Visa system has also experienced difficulties. Operating a carnival is extremely labor intensive. Much of the labor is simply not attractive to American workers. This includes a lot of traveling, working on the weekends, heavy lifting, and living in bunkhouses.
“I keep coming back because I simply love my job. Trust me it’s not for everyone. It’s long hours and hard work, but the reward of bringing smiles to people’s faces is worth it,” said Michelle Teixeira, a H2B visa worker from South Africa.
Carnivals use H2B Visa workers from Mexico and South Africa. These workers commit for an entire season (8-10 months), and most do excellent work. Some carnivals are reliant on these H2B Visa workers for 100% of their workforce. Deggeller Attractions operates with over 50% American workers, but still has workers who use the H2B Visa program.
With only 66,000 workers allowed to enter the program yearly, the H2B program is instrumental to seasonal positions in the United States. Carnivals, resort owners, landscape workers, shrimpers, hospitals, and many other companies rely on these H2B Visas. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the cap for the first half of 2018 was reached on December 15, 2017, and the cap for the second half was reached Feb. 27, 2018. During the first 5 business days of having the program petitions open, the government received 2,700 petitions asking for approximately 47,000 workers.
Because of this, the USCIS conducted a random lottery to select petitions. Another 15,000 workers were randomly selected the second half of 2018 after Congress gave the okay, according to a June 1, 2018, article in the Society for Human Resource Management. 75,500 worker positions were requested. Places like carnivals and shrimpers who have their petitions in right away actually were at a disadvantage when USCIS decided to use a random lottery system as many of their seasonal workers were unable to get the H2B Visas.
Many carnivals have employed people from different countries for years. At Deggeller Attractions, people have come from South Africa on a yearly basis, and they feel they are part of the Deggeller Family. The use of the random lottery system to determine who is allowed to get a H2B Visa is not beneficial to people who have been part of the carnival family. Deggeller Attractions has been a long-term user of the program. With the lottery system, a first time business owner and an owner who has used the program for years receive the same chance.
As of June the House Appropriations Committee passed an H2B amendment offered by Andy Harris, Henry Cuellar, Dutch Ruppersberger, Chellie Pingree, and Chris Stewart which aims to Exempt H2B workers from the 66,000 annual cap if they have received an H2B Visa during one of the previous two fiscal years. This also will allocate the 66,000 Visas for new H2B workers on a quarterly basis whose season may not align with the current bi-annual allocation. This amendment also will create a system in which 66,000 H2B visas for new workers would be allocated on a proportional basis if the cap is reached so that all employers will receive a percentage of H2B workers.
Congress is working to pass all of its appropriations bills prior to the start of the 2019 fiscal year, which is the October 1stdeadline, but it is often missed. The President will then decide to sign the final bill in order for it to take effect. Ultimately, we have no idea if this will become a law until October 1st,or if there is a continuing resolution, until a later date in the fiscal year.
Depending on Congress and their willingness to open up the program for more workers earlier in the year, it may determine how many longtime workers are able to continue with Deggeller Attractions. Like Dockrall, many of the workers have been joining their season family for years.
“Without the H2B Visa I would never have been able to come to America and earn a living to help support my family in South Africa. The H2B Visa gives people a chance, and sometimes that’s all someone ever needs,” says Teixeira.