Additional H-2B Visas Unreleased as Busy Season Fast Approaches for Many Seasonal Businesses

Summer is growing increasingly near, and specific seasonal industries on the Eastern Shore will require a large number of foreign national workers. Many employers in these key industries have been left with uncertainties regarding their H-2B workforce as the additional 35,000 H-2B visas promised by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continue to go unreleased.

The H-2B visa is a non-immigrant visa that permits employers to hire foreign national workers for non-agricultural employment on a seasonal basis or for “peak load needs.” The employer must be able to show that there are not enough American workers that are willing and qualified to fill these roles and that the need is either a one-time occurrence, seasonal or intermittent in nature, or due to a “peak load need’ which is not a part of regular operations.

H-2B visa workers are heavily relied upon in industries such as tourism, seafood, construction, and landscaping, and ordinarily, 66,000 of these visas are made available every year, divided into half for the summer season and the other half for the winter season. In light of the labor shortage straining employers across the country, however, the DHS announced that they would release an additional 35,000 H-2B visas for the remainder of the federal government’s fiscal year.

These visas were expected to be released by April 1st; however, this time came and went without any word on the precise date the visas would be released. Now with the busy season approaching for many of these key industries which are dependent upon H-2B workers Representative Andy Harris of Maryland has announced that he has sent letters to several federal departments in charge of the program asking them to immediately release the additional visas.

According to an announcement from the Representative, “I have repeatedly stressed to both the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor that time is of the essence with respect to the release of these supplemental visas. Each day of bureaucratic delay is another day of canceled contracts, lost income, and lost jobs for our seasonal employers on the Eastern Shore and throughout the country. The busy summer season is upon us, and businesses are desperate for the labor necessary to meet consumer demand. I urge the Departments to recognize the damage, in some cases irreversible, that seasonal businesses sustain as they await access to their seasonal labor force and to do everything in their power to make these supplemental H-2B visas available to our seasonal employers without delay.”

In addition to campaigning for greater numbers of H-2B visas to be made available, the Representative is also a co-sponsor of H.R. 3897, the H-2B Returning Worker Exemption Act. This Act aims to resolve the recurring struggle that seasonal industries have faced by exempting seasonal workers who have held an H-2B in any of the three prior years from the annual cap.

For businesses hiring foreign national workers, including those with H-2B visas, there are many paperwork requirements. Among these, one of the most complexes can be the Form I-9. With many potential documentation issues, constantly changing laws, and significant penalties for non-compliance, this can prove challenging for employers. One of the best ways to simplify the process is with an electronic I-9 management system which can guide HR managers through the process and simplify the management and storage of both I-9 Forms and related documentation.