To hear and/or broadcast Senator Mikulski's floor statement today in support of this amendment, please call 1-800-511-0763 and enter actuality number 7252, or visit: http://democrats.gov/actualities/mikulski/.
Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) was joined by 93 of her Senate colleagues today to help businesses who count on seasonal workers stay afloat. Today the United States Senate passed Senator Mikulski's "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act" as an amendment to the Iraq-Afghanistan appropriations bill. Senator Mikulski's legislation exempts returning seasonal workers from the national cap of 66,000 people, creates new anti-fraud provisions in the visa program, creates fair allocation of visas, and creates new reporting requirements so Congress can track how many people return each year through the H2B visa program.
For the second year in a row, the H2B visa cap of 66,000 workers was reached. This year, the cap was reached just a few months into the fiscal year (beginning October 1). Because companies are not allowed to apply for workers more than 120 days before they are needed, many Maryland businesses - who need about 7,700 workers - weren't even able to apply for visas this year because the cap was already reached.
These temporary, documented workers are vital for many companies -including seafood processing, landscaping and hospitality companies - to stay in business. In fact, many companies use the H2B visa program year after year to legally hire temporary and seasonal workers when American workers are not available.
"Businesses all over the country, including many right here in Maryland, are facing a crisis," said Senator Mikulski. "American companies desperately need seasonal workers so their businesses can survive the summer. But the national cap of H2B visas was reached so early this year that many Maryland businesses were not even allowed to apply. Without these temporary workers, many businesses could forced to limit services, lay off permanent U.S. workers or, worse yet, close their doors. We can't let this happen. That's why I have fought so hard for the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act - a quick fix to the H2B problem and help ensure that our companies get the workers they need to stay in business. I'm so proud to be joined by 93 of my colleagues today to stand up for America's businesses."
Senator Mikulski's legislation is a two-year temporary fix to solve the immediate H2B visa shortage. The bill does four things:
1. Exempts returning seasonal workers from the cap
The bill exempts workers from the 66,000 H2B cap who have already successfully participated in the H2B Visa Program. These are workers who have used the H2B program in one of the past three years and have returned home following their employment with a U.S. company. Employers must still go through the H2B process and must still demonstrate that U.S. workers are not available to fill the open positions.
This new system would reward those companies and workers who have followed the rules and worked hard and successfully participate in the program. This provides an added advantage to employers who are able to retain workers who are already trained to do their seasonal jobs.
2. Creates new anti-fraud provisions
This bill makes sure that the government agencies processing the H2B visas have the resources they need to detect and prevent fraud. Employers would be required to pay an anti-fraud fee of $150 on each H2B petition. Those fees would be used by the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Labor to train their employees to prevent fraud. The bill also creates new sanctions for misrepresenting facts on an H2B petition.
3. Creates Fair Allocation of Visas
Senator Mikulski's bill creates a visa allocation system that is fair to all employers. It reserves half of the 66,000 visas for employers needing workers in the winter and half for those needing workers in the summer. Dividing when the visas are allocated ensures that - until a long-term solution is reached - employers who use winter labor and those who use summer labor will have an equal chance of getting the workers that they need.
4. Creates New Reporting Requirements
This legislation creates new reporting requirements for the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that Congress knows how many people are using the program, how many are returning each year and/or had their visa status revoked or otherwise terminated. This will help Congress make informed decisions about reforms that need to be made to the H2B visa program.
The Iraq Supplemental bill is expected to pass the Senate, and then in the next step of the legislative process, the House and Senate will meet in Conference Committee to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill. Senator Mikulski is a conferee in this process. The conference report will then be sent back to the floor of both Houses of Congress for a final vote. Once passed by the House and Senate, the bill will be sent to the President for his signature.