U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) yesterday joined a bipartisan group of senators in introducing the Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2017, legislation that would make substantive reforms aimed at helping seasonal employers better navigate the H-2B temporary non-agricultural visa program.
The H-2B program is vital to small and seasonal employers across the country who depend on temporary workers to sustain their businesses and supplement their existing American workforce. This bipartisan legislation would streamline the program to eliminate ambiguities and establish clear parameters for employers hiring H-2B workers, require increased coordination between federal agencies, and bring transparency to the program operations for greater efficiency while ensuring American workers are not displaced.
The Small and Seasonal Businesses Act would also increase certainty for businesses, allowing seasonal employers to better prepare for fluctuations in demand. The legislation includes a “returning worker exemption” provision, which allows workers who have previously worked in the U.S. through the H-2B visa program to not count against the visa cap. There was no returning worker exemption in FY2017, which has caused hardship for seasonal small businesses that were not able to fill their workforce demands.
“Seasonal employees are a critical component of South Dakota’s robust tourism industry, which is largely comprised of small businesses,” said Thune. “The temporary, supplemental workforce provided by the H-2B visa program is essential for businesses that employ domestic workers, yet simply cannot fill all their job openings with local employees. Given our state’s low unemployment rate, these workers, especially those seeking to return, would play an important role in our economy.”
“The South Dakota tourist and construction industries depend on the H-2B visa program to sustain their businesses during their busy seasons,” said Rounds. “We have already reached the cap of H-2B for fiscal year 2017, and many of these businesses are in jeopardy of losing business or laying off workers because they are unable to fulfill their obligations. While we continue to search for an immediate fix to this problem, our legislation would make substantial, long-term reforms to the H-2B visa program, providing more flexibility, more transparency and more certainty for businesses who rely on these temporary, seasonal workers.”
In addition to Thune and Rounds, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Angus King (I-Maine), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Important Facts About the H-2B Visa Program:
- H-2B workers support American jobs and small businesses. Every H-2B worker creates or sustains 4.64 American jobs on average according to a study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute.
- As required by law, employers must first make a concerted effort to hire American workers to fill open positions. H-2B visas fill needs for American small businesses when there are not enough able and willing American workers to fill the temporary, seasonal positions.
- The claim that the H-2B program represses wages for American workers is a myth. In fact, employers often have to spend more money to hire temporary H-2B workers, who are paid a prevailing wage that is set by the U.S. Department of Labor.