Indiana landscaping companies turning down work due to lack of employees

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As spring arrives and landscaping jobs start picking up, Hoosiers may find it more difficult to find a company to do their work.

Landscaping companies across the state are struggling because of restrictions to the federal H-2B work visa and a lack of willing local candidates, according to more than one statewide organization.

Kevin Hughes, owner of Rosie's Gardens and Hughes Landscaping on the north side, has a "Now Hiring" sign in front of his business and says he's seen a huge hit to his business already.

"I've already told probably 20, 25 people I just can't do their work this year," Hughes said.

Hughes relies partly on a group of H-2B workers from Mexico. The men have worked for his family's business for more than 20 years, but this year, they did not receive extensions to their work visas and do not know if they'll be able to come back to Indiana for the season.

"It's a group of brothers from Guanajuato, Mexico," Hughes said. "I was one of the ones that didn't get my visas for these guys."

As the federal government further restricted the visas, Hughes and other landscapers participated in a lottery program. John Wolski, who owns Ski Landscape in Lawrence, was one of the few to get his visas approved through that program.

"There's roughly 50 firms in Indiana that use the H-2B visa program. Three out of 10 will be lucky enough to get their men back," Wolski said. "We have people that have been coming back for 18 years."

Both Wolski and Hughes said they have struggled for years to find Hoosiers who are willing to take on the seasonal work, since it involves long hours, manual labor, and only nine months of steady income.

"People are stealing workers from each other, paying bonuses, just to have enough help to get work done in the spring," Hughes said.

A last-minute move by Congress to add provisions to the latest spending bill could help release more visas, but Hughes said he didn't think that would happen until May or June.

"I might be able to get my guys back the middle of the summer but for now, this spring, it’s going to be tight," Hughes said.

In the meantime, Hughes said he would focus more on his nursery business and might even makes long-term plans to change his model.

"I have personally just been thinking about adjusting my type of work, if I’m not going to be able to have these laborers to help at the peak times of the year like I need them," Hughes said.

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