Update: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began receiving H-2B petitions on February 21, 2018 and within 5 days had received 2700 petitions representing 47,000 seasonal jobs for the summer/fall 2018 season, far exceeding the 33,000 visa cap. On February 28, 2018, USCIS conducted a lottery and randomly selected the cap-subject petitions it will consider. USCIS will reject any cap-subject petitions received after February 27th, and will return to their employers any petitions not selected in the lottery, with the filing fees. USCIS will continue to accept petitions for cap-exempt H-2B visas.
Maine businesses should urge our delegation to support H-2B cap relief as part of the ongoing negotiations to fund the federal government past March 23, 2018.
Read more below about how we got to this point.
On January 3, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that by January 1st, the first day that it accepted applications for the summer season, it had received applications covering more than 81,600 positions from employers hoping to obtain H-2B visas for seasonal non-agricultural foreign workers. That number is triple that of January 1, 2017. Only 66,000 H-2B visas are available annually, with a mere 33,000 allocated for seasonal jobs with start dates between April 1 and September 30. While certain seasonal workers are exempt from the cap, the majority of employers who hoped to meet their summer season labor needs in part with H-2B workers are likely to be sorely disappointed. Employers can learn which H-2B employees are exempt from the 33,000 cap, and track whether the cap has been reached here.
Last year, the H-2B summer seasonal visa cap was reached in mid-March, leaving Maine’s restaurants, hotels and other seasonal businesses scrambling to find staff. Several had to open late or close early in the season, close some of their hotel rooms, or offer fewer meal shifts. Congress enacted a temporary fix applicable only to FY2017 that resulted in 15,000 additional H-2B visas being added to the cap, but too late to benefit most employers.
When employers have to scale back because they can’t get the workers they need, this hurts entire communities. States and localities lose tax revenues from the business’s reduced sales. U.S. workers may lose their jobs or have reduced hours if a business decides not to open or limits its hours. Local businesses lose the funds that foreign workers spend while living here.
Congress needs to enact a permanent solution to stop these perennial H-2B visa shortages.