The H-2B visa program has provided immeasurable benefits to our region’s seasonal businesses, their employees, and the surrounding communities.
From seafood restaurants in Cape Cod to hotels in Kennebunkport and ski resorts in New Hampshire, New England’s seasonal industries face a daunting task in finding the workers to meet increased demand during peak seasons. Fortunately, the H-2B guest worker program has provided a proven solution to fill the labor gap that the domestic workforce alone cannot meet.
Created in 1952 through the Immigration and Nationality Act, the program allows employers to apply for visas for foreign laborers to fill temporary jobs that they are unable to staff with local workers. The H-2 program was modified in 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act created two separate visa categories: the H-2A visa for temporary agricultural workers and the H-2B visa for temporary jobs in sectors outside of agriculture. To employ foreign workers through the H-2B program, employers must engage in a process involving the Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department. Although a cumbersome process, the petition for H-2B visas has, with the exception of 2007-2009, generally grown over the years, demonstrating the increasing need for the program.
The H-2B visa program has provided immeasurable benefits to our region’s seasonal businesses, their employees, and the surrounding communities. It allows employers the flexibility they need to sustain and expand their businesses, creating even more job opportunities for the local population. A study from the American Enterprise Institute found that for every H-2B worker hired, 4.64 American jobs are created or sustained.
The H-2B visa program is not without its flaws. Regulatory uncertainty and bureaucratic red tape cost small businesses time and money. Furthermore, employers nationwide are limited to a maximum total of 66,000 H-2B visas per fiscal year, a quantity divided equally between the first and second halves of the year. This cap has regularly proved inadequate, failing to provide enough workers for rising business demands.
A number of legislative proposals have been introduced to address these problems, including the Strengthen Employment and Seasonal Opportunities Now (SEASON) Act (HR 3918), the Immigration for a Competitive America Act of 2016 (HR 5398), and the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act (S.2225). Immigration will take center stage in Washington this year, and temporary worker visa programs like the H-2B will be a key component of the debate. It's imperative that the new Congress and administration act quickly, and in the best interest of small businesses.
MYTH VS. FACT
Select a myth below to see the truth behind these statements.
+ MYTH 1 : H-2B workers take jobs away from Americans.
FACT: By law, Americans are given the opportunity to apply for all seasonal jobs before any foreign workers are considered. All seasonal positions must be properly advertised to Americans in the community and employers must hire any able and willing American workers to fill open positions.
+ MYTH 2 : The H-2B program represses wages for American workers by providing a cheaper labor source.
FACT: Employers are required to pay both H-2B workers and similarly employed American workers a premium wage dictated by the Department of Labor.
+ MYTH 3 : H-2B workers are eligible for government benefits like welfare, EBT cards, SSI, and Medicaid.
FACT: H-2B temporary seasonal workers are not eligible for, nor can they collect government benefits. They do however pay all applicable taxes, including Social Security and Medicare. H-2B workers help fund these programs, but do not draw benefits.
+ MYTH 4 : H-2B workers overstay their visas.
FACT: According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), overstays in the H-2B program are rare. Workers who overstay their visas are barred from future participation in the program. DHS requires employers to promptly report H-2B workers who fail to report for work or who complete their work earlier in the season than agreed upon.
+ MYTH 5 : The 66,000 annual cap is adequate to meet demand.
FACT: This year, the cap for summer seasonal businesses was reached on January 12th. The cap for winter seasonal businesses will likely be reached this spring. This leaves many seasonal employers shut out of the program and with no ability to hire legal seasonal workers.
+ MYTH 6 : The H-2B program is predominantly utilized by large corporations.
FACT: Most companies that use the H-2B program are small businesses, which is why the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy has repeatedly opposed burdensome H-2B regulations. Small businesses that use the program are landscape contractors, independent bed and breakfasts, recreational facilities, mom and pop restaurants, forest tree planters, seafood processors, and many others.
+ MYTH 7 : The H-2B program enables workplace abuses and labor violations.
FACT: The same labor laws protect H-2B workers and American workers alike. H-2B employers must comply with all federal, state, and local labor, health, and safety laws. H-2B workers are issued a workers’ rights card upon admission to the United States that outlines their rights and how to report abuses. Employers are prohibited from collecting any type of recruitment fee from H-2B workers. Employers who violate the law are subject to harsh civil and criminal enforcement.