H2B Visa Update
Small and seasonal businesses in Maryland have voiced their concerns over the lack of sufficient visas issued under the H2B visa program. This concern is raised annually not only in Maryland, but also nationwide. H2B visas are temporary, seasonal visas that allow foreign workers to enter the U.S. legally in order to temporarily work for businesses who cannot find willing and able American employees. The job openings are labor-intensive and manual, such as pool cleaners and landscape laborers. Historically, high-school and college aged students would fill these positions, but many students now have the opportunity to apply for summer internships and have chosen this instead of manual labor. This change in the workforce preference and the simultaneous limiting of H2B visas have created a shortage of workers.
The federal government issues 33,000 H2B visas for the period of April 1-October 3. However, the demand is always far beyond this number. In 2018, over 80,000 applications were filed for this period, and in 2019 over 96,000 applications were filed. All of these applications were filed by businesses seeking workers to fill positions that American workers will not fill. The application process is long, complicated, and extremely expensive. If there were American workers to fill the jobs, employers would not be spending thousands of dollars and extensive hours on the applications; the fact that so many have applied reflects a legitimate need, a true shortage in this particular segment of the workforce. Without the H2B workers, employers will struggle and in many cases fail to find employees.
In previous years, foreign H2B workers who had previously entered the U.S. under the H2B program, had exited the U.S. after their jobs were done, and had not committed any crimes at home or abroad, were not counted against this cap of 33,000. This exemption was called the “returning worker exemption”; more than double the current cap were admitted under these regulations. In 2016, this exemption was revoked and the cap now included all H2B applicants.
I have reached out to Congressman Andy Harris to encourage him to introduce or to co-sponsor federal legislation that would reinstate the returning worker exemption, as was proposed in previous years, allowing for a reasonable and rational solution to the problem. While I believe that long-term we must work to integrate the American workforce into these positions, it is not currently feasible due to changes in the workforce, and the absence of workers could even put small and seasonal companies out of business. In order for the businesses to have seasonal access to legal, profitable, and available employees, this is the best short-term solution.
Delegate Andrew Cassilly
Harford and Cecil Counties