Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King led a group of 11 bipartisan Senators in sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, urging her to increase the number of H-2B visas to provide relief to small businesses struggling to fill seasonal job openings in the current tight labor market.
The letter calls on 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.
If the H-2B visa cap is not lifted and employers are unable to find seasonal help, some may have to curtail operations, putting the jobs of American workers who fill year-round positions at risk.
“Maine’s tourist industry typically welcomes more than 20 million overnight guests and 16 million day visitors each year, most of them during a brief summer season that is critical to the success of the state’s economy. With a state population of only 1.3 million, it would not be possible to serve this many guests without the help of the 2,400 H-2B workers who fill positions in Maine’s restaurants and hotels in the summertime. Without them, many of these establishments simply could not survive,” Senators Collins and King wrote.
“The demand for seasonal workers is so extreme that the Department of Labor’s iCERT system was overwhelmed and crashed almost immediately when the application window for H-2B visas opened January 1st,” Senators Collins and King continued. “After rebooting the system, the Department of Labor has received 96,400 applications, nearly triple the 33,000 H-2B visas available for the second half of the fiscal year. This volume of applications reflects a growing need for seasonal workers as the labor market continues to tighten: in the past year, the national unemployment rate has fallen to 4 percent, even as nearly 1.5 million Americans have rejoined the workforce.
“We hope to convey the reality that a serious labor shortage confronts our country, and that additional H-2B visas are needed to help address it. We also ask that you release the additional visas as soon as possible, so that employers can prepare properly for the upcoming season,” Senators Collins and King concluded.
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.
Senators Collins and King’s letter was also signed by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chris Coons (D-DE), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tina Smith (D-MN).
Click HERE to read the letter.