March 29, 2019
Washington, D.C. — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today that an additional 30,000 H-2B visas will be made available to employers across the country to fill seasonal jobs – double the number of additional visas allotted in the past two years – for returning workers awarded a seasonal visa in at least one of the last three fiscal years. Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) led a group of 11 bipartisan Senators in writing to DHS Secretary Nielsen, urging her to release these visas to allow Maine small businesses to hire additional temporary employees and help support their operations during the busy summer tourist season.
“Maine’s tourism industry is a significant part of our state’s economy, supporting the jobs of more than 100,000 Mainers. In order to meet the demand of the nearly 37 million visitors to our state each year—most of whom arrive during the busy summer season—Maine businesses need H-2B workers to supplement their Maine workforce. Without their help, many of these hotels and restaurants would be unable to open or would have to curtail their operations, hurting local communities and Maine workers employed by these businesses, said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement.
“Although the release of these additional visas is an encouraging step and will provide relief to many Maine small businesses, the limited number available does not meet the overwhelming need given the current tight labor market and record low unemployment,” Senators Collins and King continued. “We will continue our efforts to reform the H-2B program to ensure Maine small businesses do not continue to suffer from a lack of workers.”
“We are extremely grateful for the efforts of Senators Susan Collins and Angus King to resolve this issue,” said Greg Dugal, director of Government Affairs for the Maine Hospitality Association. “Even though the increase of the cap does not meet the need, it is a doubling over last year and will be incredibly helpful for Maine businesses in 2019.”
Senators Collins and King have urged Secretary Nielsen to increase the existing 66,000 H-2B visa cap to 135,320, the number available in fiscal year 2007, which is permitted by a provision in the recently-passed Fiscal Year 2019 DHS Appropriations Bill. Secretary Nielsen used similar authority in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to provide an additional 15,000 H-2B visas.
H-2B workers support American jobs and small businesses. Bipartisan research has found a direct correlation between increased numbers of H-2B workers and a rise in pay across the board for all employees. As required by law, employers must first make a concerted effort to hire American workers to fill open positions. H-2B visas fill needs for American small businesses when there are not enough able and willing American workers to fill the temporary, seasonal positions.