H-2B guest workers in forestry: by the numbers

March 9, 2020
H-2B hiring forestry guest workers forest industry

Guest workers regenerating a northern Minnesota forest. (photo: @Chris_KTDunham, Twitter)

Guest workers regenerating a northern Minnesota forest. (photo: @Chris_KTDunham, Twitter)

Guest workers hired through the H-2B visa program get jobs done. This is especially true across many forestry companies. Guest workers plant trees, conduct silvicultural treatments, and assist in tree nursery production.

A strong guest worker program can lead to a future forest products industry that is healthy and sustainable in the long term.

Last week, the Trump administration announced 35,000 additional seasonal H-2B guest worker visas available in 2020. The H-2B program provides opportunities to hire temporary foreign workers to fill low-skill and non-agricultural positions.

This post describes the status and trends of H-2B guest workers in forestry-related occupations using the most recent available data from the US Department of Labor.

H-2B guest worker database

All data are derived from the H-2B Disclosure Data available on the Department of Labor, Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s website. Data from FY2018 data are reported in this post, with historical data gathered from 2011.

Identifying forestry-related occupations can be done through querying each application’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code. The SOC code is used by federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories.

A number of variables are available that can provide insight into the characteristics of forestry-related positions in the H-2B program:

  • Job title,
  • Employer name and contact information,
  • Number of requested and certified H-2B workers,
  • Full or part time,
  • Number of hours per week,
  • Nature of temporary work need (e.g., seasonal or peakload)

H-2B guest workers in forestry occupations

In FY2018, 15,095 certified guest workers were employed in forestry-related occupations. These include the following occupations (number of positions in parentheses):

  • Forestry and conservation workers (11,093 guest workers),
  • Farm workers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse workers (1,682 guest workers),
  • Recreation workers (1,401 guest workers), and
  • Tree trimmers and pruners (919 guest workers)

Landscaping and groundskeeping workers accounted for the majority of certified H-2B workers, 50% of them in FY2018. Forestry and conservation workers were the second-most popular occupation. The three other forestry-related workers were included in the top 23 of all occupations (as identified by SOC code).

Forestry Worker and General Forestry Laborer were the most common job titles for forestry guest workers. As seen in the job titles, there is a lot of similarity among job titles in forestry-related occupations.

Table 1: The eight most common forestry job titles listed on H-2B guest worker applications (FY2018)
Job title Number of workers
Forestry Worker 6056
General Forestry Laborer 979
FOREST AND CONSERVATION WORKER 753
Nursery worker 676
Tree Trimmer / Climber 664
Nursery Worker 607
Forest & Conservation Workers 527
Tree Planter 487

Hiring demographics of H-2B forestry guest workers

Seasonal work is common throughout forestry–think planting trees in spring. In H-2B applications, employers need to provide evidence that the work is tied to a season within a year (or some other event or pattern). The seasonal work must also be recurring in nature.

Peakload work is another type of work that may be specified in H-2B applications. While the employer may regularly employ permanent workers, peakload work indicates that the employer needs to supplement its permanent staff on a temporary basis due to a seasonal or short term demand.

Nearly 85% of all forest and conservation guest workers are seasonal. These percentages are similar for recreation workers and tree trimmers/pruners. For farm workers and laborer guest workers, the number of seasonal and peakload guest workers are approximately even.

All H-2B forestry guest workers were designated full time positions. Full time was indicated most commonly as 40- or 35-hour work weeks.

Conclusion

Guest workers under the H-2B program are essential for many organizations in the forest products industry. The total number of H-2B guest workers in forestry-related occupations has increased by 77% since 2011.

Demand for guest workers varies regionally across the US depending on the nature of the forestry job. In forestry occupations, most H-2B guest workers are hired seasonally and on a full time basis. Maintaining a strong commitment to the H-2B program, as evidenced from last week’s news, can promote a healthy and viable forest products industry in the future.

By Matt Russell. Leave a comment below or email Matt with any questions or comments.

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