WASHINGTON — Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, have introduced legislation aimed at making substantive reforms to the H-2B visa program that allows foreign workers to take seasonal non-agricultural jobs in the U.S.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Steve Rounds, R-South Dakota; and John Thune, R-South Dakota.
The Small and Seasonal Businesses Act would increase certainty for businesses, allowing seasonal employers to better prepare for fluctuations in demand, according to a news release issued Friday by King’s office. The legislation includes a returning worker exemption provision, which would allow workers who previously worked in the U.S. through the H-2B visa program to not count against the visa cap.
There was no returning worker exemption in last year, which has caused hardship for seasonal small businesses that were not able to fill their workforce demands, the release said.
“Small businesses across Maine often rely on seasonal workers to help them operate, especially during the busy summer months,” King said in the release. “But today, bureaucratic failures within the H-2B program are standing in the way of our businesses succeeding or even keeping their doors open.
“If this is not fixed, it could have very serious consequences for Maine’s economy,” the senator said. “Our legislation will help ensure that employers across Maine and the nation will be able to hire the workers they need to stay in business and continue contributing to the local economy, while also maintaining important protections that put the American workforce first.”
The legislation, if passed, would streamline the program to eliminate ambiguities and establish clear parameters for employers hiring H-2B workers, require increased coordination between federal agencies and bring transparency to the program operations for greater efficiency while ensuring American workers are not displaced, according to King’s office
“Last year, Maine welcomed nearly 36 million visitors who had a combined economic impact of approximately $9 billion, and those numbers are continuing to grow,” Collins said in the release. “Many Maine small businesses, particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries, rely on seasonal workers to supplement local employees during peak seasons and keep up with this increasing demand.
King and Collins previously signed a letter calling on the Department of Homeland Security to conduct an audit to determine the number of unused visas during the first half of the fiscal year and requested that any unused visas be provided to eligible businesses that have been unable to secure an adequate number of workers because of the cap.