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Tillis, King Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Improve H-2B Visa Program And Assist Small Businesses

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Angus King (I-ME) have introduced the Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2017, bipartisan legislation that makes substantive reforms aimed to help seasonal employers better navigate the H-2B temporary non-agricultural visa program. Original co-sponsors include Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and John Thune (R-SD).

The H-2B program is vital to small and seasonal employers across the country who depend on temporary workers to sustain their businesses and supplement their existing American workforce. This bipartisan legislation would streamline the program to eliminate ambiguities and establish clear parameters for employers hiring H-2B workers, require increased coordination between federal agencies, and bring transparency to the program operations for greater efficiency while ensuring American workers are not displaced.

The Small and Seasonal Businesses Act would also increase certainty for businesses, allowing seasonal employers to better prepare for fluctuations in demand. The legislation includes a “returning worker exemption” provision, which allows workers who have previously worked in the U.S. through the H-2B visa program to not count against the visa cap. There was no returning worker exemption in FY2017, which has caused hardship for seasonal small businesses that were not able to fill their workforce demands.

“Across North Carolina and the country, seasonal employers have been unfairly facing bureaucratic barriers through the H-2B program, to the point where they are not even sure if they can continue to stay in business,” said Senator Tillis. “This bipartisan legislation will not only help alleviate the stress and frustrations our business owners face within the H-2B program, but will continue to place a priority on both the American workforce and our local economies.”

“Small businesses across Maine often rely on seasonal workers to help them operate, especially during the busy summer months. But today, bureaucratic failures within the H-2B program are standing in the way of our businesses succeeding or even keeping their doors open. If this is not fixed, it could have very serious consequences for Maine’s economy,” Senator King said. “Our legislation will help ensure that employers across Maine and the nation will be able to hire the workers they need to stay in business and continue contributing to the local economy, while also maintaining important protections that put the American workforce first.”

“Improving the H-2B program, while still ensuring that Americans get first crack at ‎jobs, not only keeps Virginia’s seafood companies in business, it helps boost the local economies on the Bay and protects American workers – from watermen to crab pickers to truck drivers – who rely on a thriving Virginia seafood industry,” Senator Warner said. “This bill makes measured reforms to the H-2B program that will help establish clear parameters for employers hiring H-2B workers, encourage better coordination among federal agencies, and improve transparency.”

“Last year, Maine welcomed nearly 36 million visitors who had a combined economic impact of approximately $9 billion, and those numbers are continuing to grow.  Many Maine small businesses, particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries, rely on seasonal workers to supplement local employees during peak seasons and keep up with this increasing demand,”said Senator Collins.  “By streamlining the application process and codifying the returning worker exemption, which has been vital to Maine’s seasonal businesses, our legislation will help protect American workers and allow Maine’s small businesses to thrive.”

“Seasonal employees are a critical component of South Dakota’s robust tourist industry, which is largely comprised of small businesses,” said Senator Thune. “The temporary, supplemental workforce provided by the H-2B visa program is essential for businesses that employ domestic workers, yet simply cannot fill all their job openings with local employees. Given our state’s low unemployment rate, these workers, especially those seeking to return, would play an important role in our economy.”

“The South Dakota tourist and construction industries depend on the H-2B visa program to sustain their businesses during their busy seasons,” said Senator Rounds. “We have already reached the cap of H-2B for fiscal year 2017, and many of these businesses are in jeopardy of losing business or laying off workers because they are unable to fulfill their obligations. While we continue to search for an immediate fix to this problem, our legislation would make substantial, long-term reforms to the H-2B visa program, providing more flexibility, more transparency and more certainty for businesses who rely on these temporary, seasonal workers.”

Important Facts About The H-2B Visa Program

·H-2B workers support American jobs and small businesses. Every H-2B worker creates or sustains 4.64 American jobs on average according to a study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute.

·As required by law, employers must first make a concerted effort to hire American workers to fill open positions. H-2B visas fill needs for American small businesses when there are not enough able and willing American workers to fill the temporary, seasonal positions.

·Employers often have to spend more money to hire temporary H-2B workers, who are paid a prevailing wage that is set by the U.S. Department of Labor.

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