As MeBIC has discussed previously, the 33,000 nationwide limit on H-2B seasonal, non-agricultural visas available for temporary jobs starting between April 1 and September 30th of each year is chronically insufficient to meet the nation’s, and Maine’s, demand for seasonal labor.
In March 2018, Congress authorized USCIS to issue up to 63,547 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of FY 2018, similar to Congress’s stopgap solution for FY 2017.
Disappointingly, after an inexcusable two month delay, USCIS just announced that rather than issue up to the maximum number of additional H-2B visas allowed by Congress’s fix, it will instead authorize only up to 15,000 more, as happened in FY 2017. As a reminder, the government received applications for over 81,000 positions on the very first day that applications for H-2B summer season visas could be filed, eventually resulting in a lottery to select which petitions USCIS would process. All other applications were rejected and returned to their employers. Clearly, USCIS was aware that 15,000 additional visas would be inadequate to meet the demand.
In Maine and across the U.S., employers are turning to other solutions, such as recruiting Puerto Ricans who, as U.S. citizens, do not need visas and who are looking to the mainland for work while the island continues to struggle to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
If the H-2B program is to have future relevance, Congress must create permanent reforms significantly expanding the number of visas available and streamlining the process, so that the H-2B visa program can be predictable and reliable for employers with seasonal labor needs. As the Wall Street Journal said in a recent editorial, “Mr. Trump says he wants the economy to grow by 4% or more, but it won’t happen if employers can’t find enough workers.”