June 7, 2018

Second-round worker visas seen as a ‘Band aid’ by tourism businesses

A second round of H-2B visas was made available by the Department of Homeland Security on May 31.

But even with that influx, some tourism-related businesses say it doesn't go far enough to fully address their workforce needs.

"This is another band-aid on a much larger issue," Kevin DesVeaux, owner of West Street Café in Bar Harbor, told the Mount Desert Islander.

DesVeaux said he benefited from the second-round added visas last year, but said the policy needed to be permanently reformed.

Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Martha Searchfield said the lottery system implemented this year resulted in many Bar Harbor businesses not getting the number of workers they needed.

Searchfield said the government needs to recognize the need for seasonal workers to support economies like Bar Harbor. Although increasing numbers of local residents are looking for full-time employment, they're not taking seasonal jobs, she said.

According to a May 31 Homeland Security news release, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced an additional 15,000 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas would be available for fiscal year 2018 nationwide. The allocation is in addition to the 66,000 visas already issued this year.

"The limitations on H-2B visas were originally meant to protect American workers, but when we enter a situation where the program unintentionally harms American businesses it needs to be reformed," Nielsen said in the release

The H-2B temporary non-agricultural worker program was designed to serve U.S. businesses unable to find a sufficient number of qualified U.S. workers to perform non-agricultural work of a temporary nature. Congress set the annual H-2B visa cap at 66,000. A maximum of 33,000 H-2B visas are available during the first half of the fiscal year, and the remainder, including any unused H-2B visas from the first half of that fiscal year, is available starting April 1 through Sept. 30.

On Feb. 27, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determined it had received sufficient H-2B petitions to meet the full FY 2018 statutory cap of 66,000.

An ongoing problem

In 2017, hospitality businesses throughout Maine were short 2,100 foreign workers, due to delays in processing work visas.

Some 2,100 foreign workers were held up in the H-2B visa program, the Kennebec Journal reported at the time. The delays in hiring seasonal foreign workers caused hospitality businesses to reduce restaurant days or limit room bookings. On Mount Desert Island, where the hospitality industry is a major employer, Portland immigration attorney Marcus Jaynes in April 2017 told the Mount Desert Islander that businesses were hanging by a thread.


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