In a win for seasonal businesses that use foreign workers, U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, has announced an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for the remainder of the 2019 fiscal year, more than double what was approved above the cap last year.
The H-2B nonimmigrant visa program, which is an important part of the Island’s seasonal economy, allows U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals for temporary nonagricultural jobs.
These supplemental visas mark the third year in a row the Department of Homeland Security has increased the H-2B visa cap.
“This is great news for our area,” Keating said in a phone conversation with The Times. “This one is going earlier than last year, and it’s double what it was last year to help meet demand.”
Island employers have struggled to staff their businesses in recent years due to the H-2B visa cap. Under the Trump administration, the number of seasonal foreign workers allowed to work in the country dropped from 80,000 in 2016 to 33,000 in 2017.
The cap, which is set at 66,000 split in half over the fiscal year, was created to protect American workers, but instead left seasonal businesses shorthanded. This year, the supplemental visas will be available only to applicants who have held an H-2B visa in the past three years.
While no date has been set for when the 30,000 supplemental visas will be available, Keating said the public and businesses will be updated as the information becomes available.
Keating added that things were hitting a critical stage in terms of seasonal employment, especially for the Island.
“You can’t have a successful hospitality industry without having dining or function spaces, lodging places. And if these things are diminished, the attraction from a tourist industry standpoint is diminished,” Keating said. “This is the lifeblood of the Island economically.”
The visa program was one of the things Islanders talked to Keating about during his visit to Martha’s Vineyard a week ago.