The head of Maine’s trade group for hotels and restaurants praised a federal decision to allow more foreign workers into the country, but said it’s too late for much of the industry to recover its losses.

Steve Hewins, head of the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association, said the Trump Administration’s move “is definitely too late in the season for many business that will not be able to recover their earlier losses, but we are grateful that they finally heard our pleas and acted – even on this limited basis.”

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will boost its cap on foreign workers under the H-2B visa program, which allows companies to bring in temporary workers to fill demand they can’t meet by hiring U.S. citizens.

With unemployment at some of its lowest levels on record in Maine, Hewins’ association and business owners have pleaded for months for federal immigration officials to lighten restrictions.

Hewins said it’s important that any business owners seeking to hire foreign workers file applications as soon as possible, as the newly available spots for foreign workers will still be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis.

The process requires companies to first apply to the Department of Labor, where it must provide proof of an effort to hire local workers for the position and a start date. Once the position or positions are certified to bring in foreign workers, there’s a separate application filed with immigration officials.

The news Monday sets off a race for those businesses to file those applications.

Marcus Jaynes, a Portland attorney who handles foreign worker applications, said in a previous interview that clients who already received certification from the labor department had paperwork ready to go for Monday’s announcement.

“We believe this may have a positive impact for some hotels, inns and restaurants during the fall season,” Hewins said in Monday’s statement. “An important point in this is that any business interested in receiving H-2B workers under this emergency authorization needs to file the necessary forms immediately, regardless of whether you filed earlier and did not receive your workers according to the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement.”

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.