In an off-season first, the Vineyard and the rest of the region will have access to 20,000 additional H2-B visa workers this winter, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, both announced on Monday.
In an interview with The Times Monday afternoon, Keating said his office had been working “for years” to advance such a boost in visas. Keating said forward thinking and a strong understanding of the needs of the Cape and the Islands by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh helped make the boost possible.
“These visas will be set aside for U.S. employers seeking to employ additional workers on or before March 31, 2022,” a Department of Homeland Security release states.
Twice a year the Department of Homeland Security allots 33,000 H2-B visas, Keating said. The winter boost adds 20,000 to those numbers. Any visas not tapped by the end of March will roll over into the next visa allotment, Keating noted. Of the 20,000 extra workers, Keating described as a “critical” achievement that ”13,500 of them are returning workers,” something Keating said he’d “pushed for for years.”
The news is being conveyed now so businesses can plan and act, Keating said. “It’s what we’ve asked for for so long, and the administration listened.”
Asked if he would attribute the past lack of progress to the prior administration, Keating said, “Well, I’m not going to look backward here. I think that what’s important is the now and the future that comes.”
He went on to say, “There’s a better understanding than ever before. They listened to me in terms of how the timing and the type of workers that we’re talking about — how important that is. And I think as we head into a very tough winter with the omicron virus … still almost every economic expert is expecting great things in the spring and the summer, and certainly, look at the explosion that occurred last year in terms of demand on the Island.”
The idea of additional workers in the workforce came as welcome news on the Vineyard. “We have used and hired many people from out of this country, wherever they originated from, and if they have the correct documentation,” Cardboard Box proprietor Ben DeForest said. “I’m all for it. Anything we can get moving forward is going to be a positive contribution to help what can only be called a labor crisis here on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Outgoing Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce executive director Nancy Gardella said it was “great news” for Vineyard businesses. “Our area is so dependent on these workers,” Gardella said.
She described the Vineyard as historically unable to fill the need for workers through commuting. She added the H2-B workers “fill gaps that our [on-Island] workforce cannot fill.”
Last year, Gardella said, “The labor shortage was crushing to our local businesses.”