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Chabot Introduces Legislation To Improve the Seasonal Work Visa Program
Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) on Wednesday introduced legislation to reform the H-2B seasonal guestworker program and make it easier for employers to meet their labor force demands during peak periods by increasing the availability of temporary visas for seasonal workers. Joining Chabot as original cosponsors of the legislation, H.R. 3918, the Strengthen Employment And Seasonal Opportunities Now (or SEASON) Act, are House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), Congressman Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and Congressman Charles W. Boustany, Jr., MD (R-Louisiana).
“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 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. The SEASON Act 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 growing economy while encouraging foreign workers to follow our laws and play by the rules.”
Under current immigration law, the H-2B visa program is specifically designed to assist these employers by providing temporary visas for foreign workers who assist with seasonal workloads. By all accounts, this program works fairly well, and is popular with both employers and seasonal foreign workers.
However, as currently administered, the program’s annual cap of 66,000 H-2B visas is inadequate and often reached early in the year, leaving many employers unable to meet their seasonal employment needs.
The SEASON Act addresses this problem by adjusting the way seasonal workers are calculated under the H-2B cap. Specifically, the legislation will increase the availability of H-2B visas by not counting a foreign worker receiving an H-2B visa for a given year against that year’s cap if that worker received a visa in any of the three prior years. Rather than just indiscriminately raising the H-2B cap, this approach places the emphasis on encouraging successful participants to return to the program.
To protect American workers, H.R. 3918 requires employers to first attempt to hire domestic workers for seasonal positions. Specifically, before being approved to participate in the H-2B program, employers must certify to the Department of Homeland Security that they have attempted to recruit domestic workers for the position and that they offered the same terms and working conditions to the foreign worker that they offered domestic workers. Additionally, the legislation does not permit employers to improperly lay-off American workers and replace them with foreign workers.
The SEASON Act also streamlines the program by removing the Department of Labor from the regulatory process. Instead, the program will be administered solely by the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with immigration enforcement. Employers will still need to certify compliance with program rules and regulations, but they will only have to answer to one government agency. As it is now, employers are often bogged down in bureaucratic red-tape, routinely receiving conflicting answers from different agencies.
The legislation also contains important taxpayer protections, including a prohibition on temporary foreign workers receiving federal benefits, including Obamacare subsidies and refundable tax credits. Additionally, to ensure that the program is truly a temporary program, H.R. 3918 requires that any position being filled by a foreign worker will last no longer than one year and occur within a peak season.