Washington, D.C. — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today that an additional 35,000 H-2B visas will be made available to employers across the country to fill seasonal jobs – an increase of 5,000 compared to the additional visas allotted last year – for returning workers awarded a seasonal visa in at least one of the last three fiscal years.
In December, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) led a bipartisan letter that was signed by 14 Senators to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, urging him 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. In January, Senator King and Representative Chellie Pingree led a letter that was signed by 189 Members of Congress, including Senator Collins and Representative Jared Golden, urging Acting Secretary Wolf to immediately increase the statutory cap of H-2B visas.
“Nearly 37 million people visit Maine each year, supporting the jobs of more than 100,000 Mainers. In order to host this large number of visitors, most of whom arrive during the busy summer season—Maine businesses need H-2B workers to supplement their Maine workforce. Without their help, many 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 these additional visas will help provide relief to many Maine small businesses, there is still an overwhelming need given the current tight labor market and record low unemployment. 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.”
“Once again Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Golden are true leaders in helping to resolve the Maine hospitality industry’s biggest annual issue, finding adequate staff to have a successful summer season,” said Greg Dugal, director of Government Affairs for HospitalityMaine. “The entire Maine congressional delegation has been nothing short of spectacular in giving seasonal employers in Maine the opportunity to thrive. 35,000 additional visas would be the most we have received in the last four years, and we are extremely grateful.”
The Maine Delegation urged Acting Secretary Wolf to increase the existing 66,000 H-2B visa cap, which is permitted by a provision in the recently-passed Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Bill. DHS used similar authority in FY 2017 and FY 2018 to provide an additional 15,000 H-2B visas and 30,000 additional H-2B visas in FY 2019. When the Department of Labor opened the H-2B visa application window last January, it immediately received applications for over 96,400 H-2B worker positions, reflecting a severe shortage of seasonal workers.
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.