The Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) released the following response to President Trump's announcement that no new H-2B visas would be issued in 2020:
“On Monday, June 22, 2020, President Trump issued an order that extends the federal government's suspension of new H-2B visas, as well as other work visas, through the end of the year. This order, as with the previous order issued in March, claims to open up new jobs to Americans during a time of record unemployment. However, when it comes to the Kentucky horse industry, this order will put our industry at severe risk.
H-2B visas are critical to Kentucky's horse industry. During a typical year, the demand for H-2B visas vastly outpaces the supply. To fully suspend the issuance of these visas is a massive blow to the Commonwealth's signature industry.
KEEP represents and advocates on behalf of the entire horse industry in Kentucky–all horse breeds and disciplines. KEEP's goal is to preserve, promote and protect Kentucky's signature $4-billion industry. Without a workforce that can meet the demands of the growing industry, it will be difficult for that economic impact to continue at the same level, especially as we are working to recover from the global pandemic.
KEEP is contacting Kentucky's senators and representatives in Washington to make them aware of this issue. Additionally, KEEP has joined with other businesses and trade associations across the country who are impacted by this decision to provide a response to the President and to the Congress.
Because the horse industry deals with animals that must be cared for, regardless of the pandemic, it is imperative that the industry can hire the labor force it needs. Additionally, equine operations across the state are working to ensure that their employees have necessary PPE and can work in a safe environment. Fortunately, due to the outdoor nature of the industry, it makes this much easier.
KEEP, through a partnership with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Workforce Center, has spent the last two years building the framework for a talent pipeline that will bring more Kentuckians into the horse industry. While we are confident that this will result in an increase in the homegrown workforce for our industry, this will not happen overnight. With unemployment in Kentucky reaching alarming levels, we are hopeful that Kentuckians will look to the horse industry for employment. However, historically, there has not been an affinity for these types of jobs.
Kentucky is leading the country when it comes to the horse industry and its economic impact. With nearly 80,000 jobs, more than 238,000 equines and 35,000 horse operations in Kentucky today, KEEP feels strongly that the industry will recover from the pandemic. However, without a full workforce, that future is in danger. KEEP will continue advocating to ensure that Kentucky's horse industry has an adequate labor pool to meet our workforce needs and will continue developing career pathways for Kentuckians to join this industry.”