After a bill that would have made permanent the H-2B exemption for returning workers failed to pass the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland introduced a similar amendment to the 2019 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Bill in the hope of providing some labor relief for businesses that rely on seasonal labor.
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Harris’s amendment excludes visas for guest workers in either of the previous two fiscal years from being counted toward the annual cap in the current fiscal year.
“Unfortunately, the current structure of the H-2B visa program cannot accommodate the recent and substantial increase in demand for temporary guest workers. My amendment will ease the current strain on the H-2B program by exempting returning workers from the annual 66,000 visa limit, and by fixing the current problem of the ‘all or nothing’ allocation system,” Harris said following the vote.
The amendment was adopted by voice vote, and the bill passed the House Appropriations Committee in late July. However, the amendment is attached to a bill that includes $5 billion in funding for the controversial border wall and may get shot down when it reaches the Senate.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has called the bill a “non-starter.”
Sen. Cory Gardner indicated his support for the H-2B program and called on lawmakers to make more visas available to workers entering the country legally.
“The H-2B visa program allows American employers to hire non-agricultural workers from foreign countries on a temporary or seasonal basis. Many small businesses in Colorado utilize these visas to fill domestic work shortages, particularly in the tourism and landscaping industries,” Gardner told Colorado Patio & Landscape by email.
The Republican senator noted that the program benefits both workers and employers in Colorado. “People wishing to enter our country legally on valid visas should be encouraged to follow clear rules instead of being subjected to bureaucratic ineptitude and red tape. We must continue to strengthen the H-2B program and ensure enough visas are provided for employers in a timely manner,” he said.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced in February that it had received enough applications to meet the cap of 66,000 visas for the fiscal year. In May, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would make available an additional 15,000 H-2B visas.
“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,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.
This article has been updated to include Sen. Gardner’s comments.