HYANNIS – The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce is supporting an effort to get Congress to pass the “returning worker” exemption for the H-2B Visa program.
The exemption would allow seasonal workers in the hospitality, landscape and construction industries who previously worked in the U.S. to return without counting towards the 66,000 nationwide cap.
“These are the workers who come back to the Cape for the same employers year after year,” said Wendy Northcross, the CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “They have become the backbone of our regional workforce when we have that seasonal influx of business.”
The “returning worker” provision that was enacted by Congress in 2016 ended and is currently not available for the 2017 season.
Employers in the region who depend on the overseas workers during the peak season are beginning to get nervous that the federal limit for H-2B Visas will be reached well before the summer season.
“The problem has been that there is a huge demand. The economy is very hot and unemployment rates are very low,” Northcross said. “So there is even more demand for this type of employee.”
If actions are not taken by lawmakers in D.C. the Cape and Islands could be shorthanded up to 1,500 seasonal workers.
The New England Seasonal Business Coalition, which was started by Mac Hay, of Mac’s Seafood in Wellfleet, and other Outer Cape business owners has hired a D.C. lobbying firm to push lawmakers to re-enact the “returning worker” provision and make other changes to the H-2B worker program to help businesses.
Northcross is hoping the provision could be attached to the reauthorization of the federal budget.
“That would be good, but April is getting late,” Northcross said. “By April some of these workers should be arriving on Cape Cod nevermind being able to continue finishing the processing.”
The Chamber of Commerce has made a contribution to the New England Seasonal Business Coalition’s lobbying effort.
An outline of the issue and efforts being made can be found at newenglandseasonalbusiness.org/main-index.