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About the H-2B Program

The H-2B Program Benefits Seasonal Small Businesses and Their Workers

The H-2B program is a foreign guest worker program that permits businesses with seasonal needs to hire foreign workers if U.S. workers are not available. The H-2B program includes extensive safeguards to assure that U.S. workers are not adversely affected and foreign workers are protected from employer abuse.

Why Mackinac Island Businesses Support the H-2B Program

  • The H-2B program is essential for small and seasonal businesses that cannot fill seasonal jobs with American workers despite extensive recruitment efforts. It is particularly important to Michigan, especially northern Michigan. For example, Mackinac Island, which in 2018 was named the number one tourist destination in the country, is almost completely closed during the winter months, when it is accessible only by snowmobile or plane.

  • Mackinac Island presents a compelling example of why the H2-B program is needed. The year-round population of Mackinac Island is 476 and the entire county has about 10,700 people.  Mackinac Island seasonal businesses need about 4500 workers.  Island businesses attempt to recruit as many U.S. workers as possible every year.  However, they still need an additional 900-950 H2-B workers because it has proven impossible to attract enough U.S. workers to the island for the season.   
  • The H-2B program relies on well-vetted returning workers who come to the U.S. for seasonal employment and then go home. The program is also important for American workers whose year round positions are reliant upon seasonal laborers during peak seasons. Every H-2B worker is estimated to create and sustain 4.64 American jobs.

Why Immediate Returning Worker Cap Relief is Needed

  • The H-2B program’s congressionally mandated cap of 66,000 set more than 30 years ago, is inadequate to meet the seasonal needs of small businesses. The cap was hit in fiscal 2015, leaving many seasonal employers in the lurch.  Congress responded by enacting a returning worker exemption (RWE) in fiscal 2016, which exempted returning workers from the cap. Otherwise, many small and seasonal businesses would have had to close their doors and lay off their American workers.
  • In fiscal 2017, 2018, and 2019, Congress did not enact RWE, instead providing discretionary authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security, to approve additional visas. In fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018, the Secretary released only 15,000 additional visas very late in the season and businesses and their U.S. workers suffered irreparable harm. In 2019, the Secretary released 30,000 additional visas to returning workers, well after the April start of the season for many businesses, including those on Mackinac Island. Some Mackinac Island businesses were still waiting for H-2B workers in early July.
  • For fiscal 2020, the House Appropriations Committee included language similar to the previous three fiscal years in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill. It differs from previous bills in that it is not completely discretionary. It requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue some additional visas. That approach is manifestly inadequate.
  • Meaningful cap relief must be included in any government funding agreement for FY 2020 to accommodate the unmet need for foreign workers to supplement available US workers for seasonal jobs. Cap relief is vital to these businesses and to their local economies. If Congress doesn’t provide H-2B cap relief, these businesses will be forced to scale back their operations, lay off U.S. workers, or even close their businesses entirely.
  • The Homeland Security appropriations bill for 2020 or any omnibus appropriations bill that includes 2020 appropriations for DHS must include cap relief.
  • Permanent cap relief is needed for the H-2B seasonal visa program so small and seasonal businesses can engage in the long-term planning that is critical to success for these businesses and the local economies that depend on them.
  • The MITB-PAC supports Members of Congress who will work to address the unique problems faced by Mackinac Island businesses in obtaining adequate foreign workers while still protecting the rights of American workers.

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