January 28, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) and U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) today led a bicameral, bipartisan group of their colleagues, including Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Representative Jared Golden (D-Maine), in a letter to Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf urging the administration to immediately increase the statutory cap of H-2B visas for fiscal year 2020. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, to release an additional 64,716 H-2B visas for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020. The letter was signed by 189 members of Congress; additional leaders of the bicameral letter include Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Representatives Andy Harris (R-Md.), William Keating (D-Mass.), and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.)
“Given the continued low unemployment and growing demand for H-2B workers, as evidenced by the recent number of applications for the second half of the fiscal year, we urge the Department to promptly make available all 64,716 additional visas authorized under the law as soon as possible,” wrote the Members. “These vital American businesses depend on the expeditious release of a sufficient number of additional visas.”
H-2B workers support American jobs and small businesses, and is a vital asset to Maine’s tourism industry, which welcomes approximately 37 million visitors to our state each year. 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.
Last month, Senators Collins and King co-led a bipartisan letter signed by 12 of their colleagues urging Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to increase the existing 66,000 H-2B visa cap to the maximum allowable by law.
A PDF of the letter led by Senator King and Representative Pingree can be found HERE and read below:
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:
We write on behalf of seasonal businesses in our states from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing, who continue to struggle with seasonal labor shortages that are made worse by the inadequate H-2B visa cap. Under the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with Secretary of the Department of Labor (DOL), is authorized to provide expeditious H-2B cap relief for our local businesses’ upcoming seasonal labor needs.
These American businesses depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries. Without immediate and meaningful H-2B cap relief, seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking quick action to release additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences, and instead, help contribute to the American economy.
The recently passed Fiscal Year 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations bill provides DHS with the authority to lift the existing 66,000 H-2B visa cap. The language is identical to the language that was enacted in each of the past three years. In each of those years, DHS has provided supplemental cap relief in the amounts of 15,000, 15,000 and 30,000 respectively. While these supplemental visas helped some employers who were shut out of the program, they were not sufficient to satisfy the total need for H-2B workers. Additionally, these visas were not released until well into many businesses’ peak seasons, which caused significant harm to the seasonal industry. We urge you to release a significant number of additional visas as soon as possible to prevent this from happening in FY 20. According to the Department’s May 2019 rule entitled “Exercise of Time-Limited Authority to Increase the Fiscal Year 2019 Numerical Limitation for the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker Program,” you are authorized to release 64,716 additional visas under this language.
As you know, the first half H-2B visa cap for FY 20 was reached on November 15, 2019, almost a month earlier than previous years. The DOL has certified the need for approximately 51,000 H-2B workers with a date of need between October 1 and March 31 with approximately 2,500 petitions still under review. Therefore, between 18,000 and 20,500 needed H-2B worker positions will remain vacant without the expeditious release of additional visas.
Additionally, the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) announced that within the first 24 hours of opening the Foreign Labor Application Gateway System for peak filing season that opened on January 2, 2020, employers filed 4,930 applications for more than 87,298 worker positions with an April 1, 2020, or later, work start date. By the end of the filing deadline on January 6, 2020, OFLC had received a total of 5,677 H-2B applications requesting 99,362 worker positions. This is more than triple the number of visa applications currently available for the second half of the fiscal year.
As a result, we urge DHS to release the maximum number of additional visas without delay. Congress was clear in the report accompanying the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020” that DHS rely on past rulemaking and act as quickly as possible in releasing additional visas. The report language states that, “USCIS is encouraged to leverage prior year materials relating to the issuance of additional H-2B visas, to include previous temporary final rules, to improve processing efficiencies.” As you know, the FY 19 temporary final rule was only released eight months ago, and there are no new legislative authorities or technical facts to review. Therefore, additional rulemaking should not be required.
Given the continued low unemployment and growing demand for H-2B workers, as evidenced by the recent number of applications for the second half of the fiscal year, we urge the Department to promptly make available all 64,716 additional visas authorized under the law as soon as possible. These vital American businesses depend on the expeditious release of a sufficient number of additional visas. We thank you in advance for your attention to this pressing matter.