U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today introduced the Prioritizing Help to Businesses Act, legislation to prioritize H-2B visa allocation to states with the lowest unemployment rates, which, in turn, would benefit states with the highest need for a supplemental workforce. It would also provide cap relief for other states beyond the initial 66,000 visas that are allocated nationally.
“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,” said Thune. “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. Over the long term, the legislation I introduced today would provide more of that much-needed certainty for businesses by targeting additional visas to states with workforce challenges, like South Dakota, that need these workers the most.
Summary of the Prioritizing Help to Businesses Act:
For states at or below a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, this bill would exempt up to 1,500 H-2B workers for that state from the annual national cap of 66,000 visas. This would provide baseline support for states that are at or near full employment, while also providing national H-2B cap relief. Currently, this would provide direct relief to 18 states meeting the 3.5 percent unemployment threshold and, using 2017 figures, cover over 19,000 H-2B visas.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the H-2B program within the Department of Homeland Security, evenly divides the 66,000 annual visa cap between two halves of the fiscal year (33,000 visas per half fiscal year). Accordingly, the Prioritizing Help to Businesses Act would establish a formula to administer the 1,500 exempted visas to each eligible state throughout the fiscal year. In the first half of the fiscal year, states could receive up to 1,000 H-2B visas that would be waived from the national cap. Any unused visas from that allocation would roll over to the second half of the fiscal year and be combined with the remaining 500 guaranteed visas for that state. This is to prevent all of the visas from being used in one season, which would give a disproportionate benefit to certain seasonal employers.
Thune’s bill also takes steps to discourage a reliance on the H-2B program. First, eligible states would only be allocated up to 1,500 exempted visas, even if they traditionally secure more visas each year. Second, eligible states that received fewer than 1,500 H-2Bs in the previous fiscal year could not increase above the previous year’s H-2B number by more than 25 percent (still up to 1,500), so as not to cause a drastic shift in the labor pool.
Eligible states seeking more H-2B visas in each half of the fiscal year would be subject to the national cap and subsequent lottery.
More on the H-2B visa program:
The H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs when employers are unable to fill positions from the local workforce. There is a statutory numerical cap on the total number of foreign nationals who may be issued an H-2B visa during a fiscal year, which is currently 66,000, with 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (October 1-March 31) and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 - September 30). Over 98,000 workers were requested for the second tranche of fiscal year 2018.