Collins, Tillis, Poliquin applaud release of more H-2B visas for seasonal workers

Republicans praised the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announcement on Monday that the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Labor would release 15,000 additional H-2B visas to help businesses fill temporary, non-agricultural jobs.

DHS Secretary John Kelly’s announcement was met with applause from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), who have all led efforts to address seasonal labor shortages across the country resulting from low unemployment rates.

USCIS currently grants 66,000 H-2B visas to seasonal employers per fiscal year, 33,000 in each half of the year. That limit was reached in March, but many businesses had more seasonal positions to fill.

“Although this should have happened much earlier, we are pleased to see that Maine businesses will now have the opportunity to hire the additional temporary workers they need to keep their doors open this summer,” Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said in a joint statement. “We urge the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security to expedite the processing of applications to ensure that Maine businesses are not further harmed by additional delays. Every day that passes without these workers threatens Maine businesses and our state’s economy.”

Collins and King called on Kelly to administer an audit of unused H-2B visas in February and March, and they joined Tillis in introducing the Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2017 in March. The measure would ensure that workers returning on H-2B visas aren’t tallied in visa caps.

“I’m encouraged that Secretary Kelly intends to provide relief to seasonal small businesses across the nation currently suffering from a lack of temporary workers,“ Tillis said. “I look forward to reviewing the details of the rule. As President Trump has noted, the H-2B program is vital for businesses that desperately need temporary help to keep their doors open and keep their American workforce employed.”

Poliquin has worked toward short- and long-term solutions to temporary worker shortages, and he spoke directly with Kelly and Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta about challenges that worker shortages have created for Maine’s tourism and recreation industry this year.

“Maine’s small businesses and employees in our tourism industry work all year round, but without additional temporary seasonal workers, their entire small businesses could be in danger of failing to fulfill the seasonal demand,” Poliquin said. “Many Maine businesses have cut back on their hours, delayed opening and have had to turn away customers because they require additional staffing. Our lodging and restaurant industries depend on the summer months and require help from temporary workers to fuel our local economies.”

Poliquin added that he was very pleased with Monday’s announcement, and he called it a “critical, big win for Maine’s economy.”