WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) recently introduced the State Executive Authority for Seasonal Occupations Needing Additional Labor (SEASONAL) Act, bipartisan legislation that would permit governors to petition the federal government for supplemental H-2B visas beyond the national cap of 66,000. Eligibility to seek additional H-2B visas would only be granted to states that have had an unemployment rate at or below 3.5 percent for at least nine of 12 months prior to their request.
“Federal inaction shouldn’t prevent state leaders from doing everything they can to strengthen their economies,” said Thune. “Labor needs plague nearly every sector in South Dakota, which is why I’m proud to introduce this legislation that would empower states to help alleviate workforce shortages while reinforcing protections for South Dakota workers.”
“Nebraska had the highest net employment rate in the country last year, yet many businesses have struggled to find qualified workers,” said Ricketts. “This bill will enable governors from states like mine to utilize more temporary workers to address this critical labor shortage and grow their economies.”
“Colorado companies rely on H-2B workers. But in recent years, our businesses are facing widespread worker shortages because available visas haven't kept up with demand,” said Hickenlooper. “Our bill gives states more flexibility to advocate for the workers they need.”
The SEASONAL Act would permit governors to petition the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for a specific number of supplemental H-2B visas beyond the national cap of 66,000. DHS would issue such visas, and, if the number of employer applications still exceed a governor’s request, they would then allocate the visas through a lottery system. Governors would have the ability to request that visas only be made available for certain DOL Standard Occupational Classification Groups or employers in specific Economic Development Districts. Unless reauthorized, this authority would sunset four years after enactment.
Nothing in the bill would prohibit a state legislature from imposing limitations on a governor concerning the program, including the number of visas requested, the DOL classification group for which H-2B visas could be requested, or the Economic Development Districts where the visas could be used. Additionally, any supplemental workers provided under this bill would be subject to any existing or future DOL requirements. The bill would also require an annual report on the program’s utilization and outcomes, including worker displacement, wages, and economic growth and productivity.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is also a cosponsor of the SEASONAL Act.