Following Pressure from Collins & King, DHS & Labor Departments to Issue 15,000 H-2B Visas to Support American Jobs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King today welcomed an announcement from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security will issue up to 15,000 additional H-2B visas for U.S. businesses to hire temporary workers. Senators Collins and King had repeatedly pressed both Departments and USCIS to increase the visa cap so that Maine businesses would be able to hire additional temporary employees to help their businesses operate during the busy summer tourist season.


“Although this should have happened much earlier, we are pleased to see that Maine businesses will now have the opportunity to hire the additional temporary workers they need to keep their doors open this summer,” Senators Collins and King said in a joint statement. “We urge the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security to expedite the processing of applications to ensure that Maine businesses are not further harmed by additional delays.  Every day that passes without these workers threatens Maine businesses and our state’s economy.”


Today, USCIS announced that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, in consultation with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, has submmited a rule to the Federal Register that will allow U.S. businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of temporary workers will be able to hire up to 15,000 additional employees under the H-2B program. The H-2B program is vital to small and seasonal employers across the country who depend on temporary workers to sustain their businesses and supplement their existing American workforce.


“Congress gave me the opportunity to provide temporary relief to American businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of available temporary workers,” said DHS Secretary John Kelly. “As a demonstration of the Administration’s commitment to supporting American businesses, DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap.”


Under current law, the USCIS distributes 66,000 annual H-2B visas to seasonal businesses – 33,000 for each half of the Fiscal Year. That cap was reached on March 13th of this year, with many small businesses in Maine still in need of seasonal employees to support their operations as the summer months approach.


On February 27th, Senators Collins and King sent Secretary Kelly and Secretary Acosta a letter urging them to conduct an audit of any unusued H-2B visas. On March 7th, they joined with a bipartisan group of Senators to renew that request.


On March 27th, Senator Collins then joined with Senator King and Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) to introduce the Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2017, bipartisan legislation that makes substantive reforms aimed to help seasonal employers better navigate the H-2B visa program. The bill would codify a “returning worker exemption” provision, which allows workers who have previously worked in the U.S. through the H-2B visa program to not count against the visa cap.


On April 27th, Senators Collins and King sent a bipartisan letter to Senate  leadership urging them to come to the aid of Maine businesses who are in desperate need of seasonal workers by instituting cap relief. Following that letter, the Senate passed spending legislation that allowed the Secretaries Labor and Homeland Security to increase the number of H-2B visas distributed to small businesses.


Following the passage of that bill, Senator King led a May 15th bipartisan, bicameral letter, also signed by Senator Collins and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, to the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor urging them to take immediate action under the authority given to them by Congress to lift the cap.


On June 28th, Senators Collins and King signed onto a bipartisan letter led by Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) to Secretary Kelly again urging him to use the authority provided by Congress to lift the cap on seasonal H-2B visas that employers rely on to fill summer jobs. In the letter, the senators expressed their concern about reports that visas may not be approved in time for peak tourist season.