In The News

A Bipartisan Fix for the H-2B Visa Program

By: Reps. Henry Cuellar and Andy Harris

When local help-wanted ads go unfilled, the federal H-2B visa program provides access to temporary seasonal labor for small and seasonal businesses. The effects are broad—the visa program benefits workers, consumers and local economies. As the editorial board correctly highlights, however, the program is plagued by chronic oversubscription, which causes perennial worker shortages. Fortunately, we have the solution. It is bipartisan and has already passed Congress once before.

We are offering the Returning Worker Exception Act to solve this chronic issue. As the name suggests, it would create an exception allowing certain previously approved guest workers to obtain another temporary work visa without counting against the annual cap(which is currently set at 66,000). The bill will also strengthen the program’s integrity by enhancing regulatory enforcement, increasing penalties for systemic abuse, ensuring U.S. worker protections and establishing fair treatment and conditions for guest workers.  As we approach the busy summer season, we are again fielding calls from our constituents. Some are from business owners forced to curtail or shutter operations entirely. Others are from consumers suffering canceled services or goods that have become inaccessible. A consistent labor supply chain is crucial to addressing these concerns. We can do that by increasing access to H-2B visas.

The secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Labor secretary, has the authority to release supplemental visas if they fi nd an insufficient supply of U.S. workers to meet the needs of eligible businesses. We support the current and previous administrations’ decisions to release supplemental visas under this authority. But, as business owners tell us, it’s usually too little and too late. The lack of predictability and ambiguous timing of additional visa availability render this approach suboptimal.

While our solution isn’t novel, it’s bipartisan and has previously proved effective. A fi xedH-2B visa program is a win-win for our businesses, consumers and the American economy.
Reps. Andy Harris and Henry Cuellar
Mr. Harris is a Maryland Republican. Mr. Cuellar is a Texas Democrat.