New Spending Bill May Double H-2B Workers
A new piece of legislation is causing a lot of conversation and controversy in Congress. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced the “Prioritizing Help to Business Act” to help states with low unemployment during busy seasons. This bill proposes a huge change to the H-2B program, which offers permits to allow foreign nationals to temporarily work in the U.S. and perform nonagricultural work on a seasonal basis.
Thune’s proposal would increase the number of H-2B workers from 66,000 to over 100,000. The press release reads, “Using December 2018 unemployment rates and the full-year 2017 H-2B allocation figures, Thune’s bill would grant 13 of 21 states meeting the 3.5 percent unemployment threshold full H-2B relief. If all qualifying states used their full growth limit, including those capped at 2,500 visas, the bill would provide a guaranteed baseline of 36,004 visas, effectively providing 102,004 H-2B visas in the year.” In addition, the bill would do away with the current system that opens up the visa applications twice a year (with 33,000 awarded at each) – to level the playing field for all employers regardless of when the peak season starts.
The Senator said, “While a low unemployment rate is a good thing, it can sometimes present challenges for states like South Dakota that rely on a seasonal, supplemental workforce during peak tourism season. As we approach the busy summer months, it’s important that our small businesses have the help they need to serve the millions of visitors who travel through our state each year. Business owners need certainty when it comes to their seasonal workforce, which is why I have been encouraging the administration to act on its current authority to grant additional seasonal visas.”
The H-2B allotment is regularly filled almost as soon as the slots open up. This bill, if passed, would allow more foreign nationals to take jobs in the United States. Those states with a 3.5% or below unemployment rate would get an exemption for up to 1,500 H-2B workers from the annual national cap of 66,000 visas.
At the moment, 13 states meet the 3.5% requirement. Thune is hoping that the bill will provide a long-term solution to worker shortages and encourage low unemployment rates. The bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security secretary to increase the cap to potentially 69,320, for a total of more than 135,000 H-2B visas a year.
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