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Press Release

Reps. Cuellar, Joyce, Keating, Pingree, Chabot and Harris Introduce the Returning Worker Exception Act of 2021

Legislation that will strengthen the H-2B program, help small businesses fulfill labor needs, and rebuild our economy post-pandemic

Washington | Dana Youngentob, DC Press Secretary (202-340-9148); Alexis Torres, District Press Secretary (956-286-6007), June 17, 2021

Washington, D.C. –Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), along with Reps. David Joyce (R-OH-14), Bill Keating (D-MA-09), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Steve Chabot (R-OH-01), and Andy Harris (R-MD-01), introduced the bipartisan Returning Worker Exception Act of 2021 (H.R. 3897). This legislation would reform the H-2B program by exempting returning workers from an outdated numerical cap as well as supporting the hiring, promoting and retaining of American workers and the expansion of the companies that use this valuable seasonal guest worker program.

“The cap of 66,000 H-2B visas is arbitrary and does not always reflect our labor needs,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar. “Workers who use this program are not trying to immigrate but are simply trying to work hard and make an honest living. They pay into our tax system and help our economy. This is vital, especially as we continue to recover from a global pandemic that affected nearly every industry and community across our nation. Employers, including many in Texas, rely on these workers to address workforce shortages.”

“The statutory cap of H-2B visas, which was set more than three decades ago, is completely inadequate to meet the demands of today’s seasonal small businesses,” said Congressman Dave Joyce. “That’s why I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in introducing this bill to provide a permanent returning worker exemption. By doing so, this bipartisan legislation will help prevent the labor shortages that often force seasonal businesses in Northeast Ohio to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close their operations completely. We can and must help seasonal small businesses overcome the harmful consequences of labor shortages and ensure they can continue to contribute to our nation’s economy.”

"The returning worker exemption will enable seasonal business owners who rely on H-2B workers the certainty that they need to meet the demands of their busy season here on Cape Cod and around the country," said Congressman Bill Keating. "I have long advocated for a returning worker exemption as the most effective way to ensure that seasonal business owners are fully staffed, and this legislation accomplishes that. This legislation also toughens penalties for the bad actors who seek to abuse the system and provides increased protections for H-2B workers."

“Maine is lauded for our tourism and hospitality industry, but it can be difficult to find enough workers to meet the demand of seasonal jobs. For regions that rely on seasonal businesses, the availability of seasonal workers is directly related to our economic recovery,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “That’s why I’m joining my colleagues in introducing the Returning Worker Exception Act. Exempting returning H-2B workers from the visa’s cap offers Maine’s small businesses a leg up during their busiest season, brings experienced seasonal workers back to our region, and will help them to build back better.”

“Every year, thousands of employers must turn to foreign workers, through the H-2B visa program, in order to meet their temporary, seasonal employment needs,” said Congressman Chabot. “Unfortunately, the number of available visas for seasonal workers is inadequate to meet the existing demand and is often exhausted in the first few months of the year, leaving many employers out in the cold and scrambling to find workers during peak periods of demand. The legislation we’re introducing today would enact common-sense reforms that will increase the availability of seasonal work visas and make it easier for employers to meet the demands of the re-opening economy while encouraging foreign workers to follow our laws and play by the rules.”

“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to permanently address the chronic problems caused by the inadequate annual cap on H-2B non-immigrant guest worker visas.  This legislation would provide a permanent returning worker exemption that would help alleviate the annual labor shortages that  plague small seasonal business in Maryland’s First Congressional District and across the country, harming local economies and creating perverse incentives for illegal immigration,” Representative Harris said.

The Returning Worker Exception Act of 2021 would:

  • Amend the existing statutory definition of “returning worker” to include any worker who entered on an H-2B visa in any one of the previous three fiscal years.
  • Strengthens anti-fraud and malfeasance measures by amending current law to increase the fraud prevention fee from $150 to $350 and requiring the Secretary to impose penalties of no less than $1,000 and no more than $10,000 for willful misrepresentations in H-2B petitions.
  • Improve the multi-agency H-2B worker request process by requiring a single coordinated digital platform for requests for certification, petitions, and visas as well as digital interactions with employers to reduce employer burden; also requiring the Department of Labor (DOL) to maintain a publicly accessible online job registry.
  • Require H-2B employers to develop and maintain a worksite safety and compliance plan.
  • Address potential misconduct by foreign labor recruiters by requiring employers to provide the name and location of foreign recruiters if engaged and by prohibiting employers, agents or recruiters from receiving fees for such recruitment.
  • Strengthens program integrity measures by codifying existing regulations that authorize DOL to investigate and take action as required to ensure program compliance, to establish a complaint process, and to impose remedies including temporary or permanent disqualification from the program for multiple and willful violations.
  • Codifies existing regulations that govern the list of countries whose nationals are eligible to be admitted under H2B.
  • Authorizes such sums as are necessary to be appropriated to support recruitment of US workers, support DOL requirements and compliance measures.

To see the United States Chamber of Commerce Letter of Support, click here.