Increase of H2B Visa Cap is Good News for Seasonal Employers

Wendy Northcross

HYANNIS – A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is providing good news for Cape and Islands businesses.

Secretary Kirsten Nielsen agreed last week to increase the cap on H2B visa workers by 30,000 for the rest of the year in response to pressure from legislators, including Congressman William Keating.

The temporary worker program has been used by local businesses for decades as it allows employers to bring in foreign workers for us to nine months to fill positions that are unable to be filled with local residents.

The extra visas will be available for returning seasonal workers who have worked previously in the U.S. in the last three years.

Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross said there was a sigh of relief from local business owners after the announcement.

“There are some employers who have always received their allotment of visas and they were shut out this year,” Northcross says. “So there was a lot of anxiety.”

The cap on H2B visas had been set at 66,000 for the fiscal year with 33,000 allocated for each half of the year.

Employers are now waiting for the new rules from Homeland Security on applying for the extra visas.

Northcross said the Homeland decision was made early enough in the year to allow summertime businesses to secure workforce for the high season.

Congress has given Homeland Security the authority to allocate more than the 66,000 H2B visas for the last three years if the secretary and the Department of Labor believed the needs of businesses could not be fulfilled by American workers.

A statement from the Office of Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that Secretary Nieslen has stated that Congress is in the right position to know the right number of H2B visas.

“We look forward to working with Congress so it can set an appropriate numerical limitation moving forward,” the statement read.

Northcross said employers and legislators have been working for the last few years to allow returning workers to not be counted against the cap.

“The returning worker is somebody the employer knows,” Northcross said. “They come into the country every year. They work for that same employer and then they go home.”

Northcross said the returning worker exemption would help meet a lot of the temporary workforce needs.

“It’s a very hot topic in Washington, D.C. and so it becomes a struggle every year to advocate and push for what we need year by year,” she said.

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