The importance of H-2B Guest Workers for Forests and Rural Communities

Presidential Proclamation 10014 and its subsequent amendment bans nonimmigrant H-2B guest workers from entering the United States. The ban includes forestry workers who are essential to the operation of the forest sector supply chain which was designated as a “Critical Infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forestry Workers can now qualify for H-2b VISAS.

The State Department has issued guidance that names forestry as an example of exceptions that should be made to facilitate continued economic recovery.

Immediate action needed:

State Department exemptions must be processed as quickly as possible.

Businesses can’t wait.

Workers need to be in the U.S. by Oct. 1 for the start of the planting season.


WITHOUT AN EXEMPTION, CRITICAL WORK FOR THIS YEAR’S REPLANTING SEASON WILL BE AT RISK, INCLUDING:

1.6 MILLION ACRES UNPLANTED

The land that may not be planted or reforested this year is an area larger than Delaware.

1.12 BILLION SEEDLINGS WILL DIE

Seedlings waiting to be planted may die in bags and in the beds of trucks.

$336 MILLION IN SUNK SEEDLING COSTS

The sunk cost of seedlings that will die when they go unplanted

$109 MILLION INCREASED COSTS

The cost of delaying or cancelling forestry work through December.

$725 MILLION TOTAL HIT

The total estimated economic hit to the forest sector and rural communities.

This ban places yet another economic burden on small businesses and rural economies during a time of crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Rural communities will be hit hardest by this ban

Access to H-2B labor is an urgent critical need for our forests and the small businesses and communities that depend on them.
Catastrophic losses caused by this ban will hurt rural communities that depend on timber. Each H-2B guest worker supports 4.5 American jobs. Private working forests in the United States support 2.5 million American jobs.

H-2B Forestry Workers:

  • Perform nearly all tree planting in the USA. (including after harvests, fires, hurricanes, and other disturbances)
  • Collect seeds and sow for future tree seedling crops.
  • Clear fuel loads to reduce wildfire risk.
  • Complete forest health work like vegetation management, thinning, and other treatments.

These forestry jobs are broadly advertised to Americans. They are typically unfilled because they are:

  • Seasonal: Scientifically, only certain jobs can be done at different times of the year.
  • Itinerant: Crews are not tied to a single community and will typically travel vast distances over the course of a season making commuting impractical.
  • Remote: Most working forests are in rural communities, far from population centers.

In FY2020, of the 6,350 positions advertised, the number of local workers who applied for these forestry jobs was only 1.9% of the available positions.


“This issue affects every forest owner. It is critical to me that my trees get planted and my site prep gets done. I have literally been planning on this for 35 years. I cannot afford to miss this season.”

–Small Family Forest Owner Survey Response

Note: The following quantifies how the H-2B Guest Worker Ban will impact the forestry sector.  Data reflected the findings of three independent surveys of contractors and forest landowners conducted from July 15-17, 2020 by the Forest Resources Association, the Forest Landowners Association, and the National Alliance of Forest Owners. Multiple data sets were used to confirm findings and the data represented here does not include duplicates.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • American companies and rural communities will take an economic hit estimated to total $725 million. That includes the sunk cost of seedlings, cancelled contracts, and increased costs for future forest management operations when work resumes. It does not include the incalculable loss of billions of dollars in forestland value when a year’s worth of timber growth is lost.
  • Seedlings will go unplanted and die. Nearly all replanting work in the U.S. is done by H-2B workers. H-2B forestry workers plant about 1.55 billion tree seedlings on 2.2 million acres of forestland in the United States each year. If forestry is not granted an exemption allowing H-2B workers to begin this critical work in the next 60 days, an estimated 1.6 million acres of forestland could go unplanted and 1.12 billion seedlings could die at a direct cost of $336 million.
  • Nearly 50% of planned critical forestry work will not happen. Forty-five percent of respondents reported that they will not be able to do any of their planned forestry work. An additional 29% indicated that they would be able to do less than 50% of their planned forestry work.
  • Costs will increase when work can resume. Deferring or cancelling forestry work through December will cause an estimated $109 million in increased costs to forest management operations. These costs will be borne by government agencies, institutional landowners, and family forest landowners whose small businesses are already suffering during the pandemic.
  • Labor for these jobs is extremely scarce or non-existent without the H-2B option. Of the 6,350 jobs advertised in FY2020, only 123, or 1.9% of the labor needs of the sector, were filled by local workers.
  • Americans’ jobs depend on the work done by these guest workers. Each H-2B worker supports 4.5 American jobs. Privately owned working forests support 2.5 million American jobs.