U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today reintroduced 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.
“With a high volume of seasonal workers who come to South Dakota during the busy tourist season, the H-2B program is especially important to our state,” said Thune. “Businesses rely on this program to serve the millions of people traveling to experience all the wonderful things our state has to offer. By ensuring states with low unemployment have access to additional seasonal workers, we can meet the unique needs of not just South Dakota, but all states across the country.”
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 2,500 H-2B workers for each 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.
Each qualifying state’s exempted visas would be allocated by a state-level lottery, and such states that had fewer than 2,500 H-2B visas in the previous year could not increase above the previous year’s H-2B number by more than 25 percent (still up to 2,500). The per-state limit is intended to prevent a disproportionate benefit for states such as Colorado and Florida, which have low unemployment, but depended on over 7,000 and 8,000 H-2B visas, respectively. For comparison, South Dakota had 1,252 H-2B visa workers in 2017. Conversely, the per-state growth limit is intended to insulate states from experiencing drastic changes to their labor force, while still providing needed supplemental workers. This would also discourage an overreliance on the H-2B program.
Qualifying states could still receive additional H-2B visas from the national cap of 66,000, which is also typically processed through a national lottery due to high demand. States with unemployment above 3.5 percent could still draw from this pool, as well.
Using December 2018 unemployment rates and the full-year 2017 H-2B allocation figures (last available), Thune’s bill would grant 13 of 21 states meeting the 3.5 percent unemployment threshold full H-2B relief. If all qualifying states used their full growth limit, including those capped at 2,500 visas, the bill would provide a guaranteed baseline of 36,004 visas, effectively providing 102,004 H-2B visas in the year.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the H-2B program within the Department of Homeland Security, currently divides the 66,000 annual visa cap between two halves of the fiscal year (33,000 visas per half fiscal year). To simplify the administration of exempted visas to qualifying states, the Prioritizing Help to Businesses Act would eliminate the semi-annual construct of the H-2B program. This would level the playing field for all employers each calendar year, regardless of when their peak seasons start.
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. Over 97,000 workers were requested for the second half of fiscal year 2019, crashing the Department of Labor’s certification platform, iCERT.